MIAMI BEACH, Fla--"The future of the NSABP [National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project] can't be built upon rejection of the past," said Bernard Fisher, MD, Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Although friends and colleagues have urged Dr. Fisher to forget the past and "get on with his life," he remains determined to set the record straight on the investigation that led, last year, to his ouster as NSABP chairman. At stake, he believes, are larger issues pertaining to academic freedom and due process.
Speaking at the 12th Annual International Breast Cancer Conference, Dr. Fisher described the Kafkaesque chain of events that followed the NSABP's report to the NCI of its investigation into falsified data from one physician at one hospital in Canada.
The Office of Research Integrity invoked an embargo while it conducted its investigation, so that for 2½ years, no one was allowed to discuss the problem publicly. "They felt quite comfortable that there was no crisis," he said.
Dr. Fisher maintains that the falsified entry data, which involved a small number of patients (99 out of 33,885 in 22 studies) and did not affect trial results when the data were removed, was merely the catalyst that set off a number of groups--Congressman Dingell from Michigan (former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation), the media, the Office of Research Integrity, the University of Pittsburgh, and certain women's activist groups--who used the investigation to fulfill their own agendas.
He feels that due process was ignored during the investigation and academic freedom compromised. "The most disappointing thing is that the University of Pittsburgh officials chose not to confront either Congressman Dingell or the frightened staff of the NCI," he said, "and abandoned a faculty member during a crisis."
First amendment rights were also threatened in that any papers written by Dr. Fisher were to be reviewed in advance by the University of Pittsburgh and the NCI. "We were told where to publish, how to publish, when to publish . . . and that was an egregious breach of academic freedom," he said.