Paul Alper sends along this news article by Kevin Lomagino, Earle Holland, and Andrew Holtz on the dairy-related corruption in a University of Maryland research study on the benefits of chocolate milk (!).
The good news is that the university did not stand behind its ethically-challenged employee. Instead:
“I did not become aware of this study at all until after it had become a news story,” Patrick O’Shea, UMD’s Vice President and Chief Research Officer, said in a teleconference. He says he took a look at both the chocolate milk and concussions news release and an earlier one comparing the milk to sports recovery drinks. “My reaction was, ‘This just doesn’t seem right. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but this just doesn’t seem right.’”
Back when I was a student there, we called it UM. I wonder when they changed it to UMD?
O’Shea said in a letter that the university would immediately take down the release from university websites, return some $200,000 in funds donated by dairy companies to the lab that conducted the study, and begin implementing some 15 recommendations that would bring the university’s procedures in line with accepted norms. . . .
Dr. Shim’s lab was the beneficiary of large donations from Allied Milk Foundation, which is associated with First Quarter Fresh, the company whose chocolate milk was being studied and favorably discussed in the UMD news release.
Also this from a review committee:
There are simply too many uncontrolled variables to produce meaningful scientiﬁc results.
Wow—I wonder what Harvard Business School would say about this, if this criterion were used to judge some of its most famous recent research?
The University of Maryland says it will never again issue a news release on a study that has not been peer reviewed.
That seems a bit much. I think peer review is overrated, and if a researcher has some great findings, sure, why not do the press release? The key is to have clear lines of responsibility. And I agree with the University of Maryland on this:
The report found that while the release was widely circulated prior to distribution, nobody knew for sure who had the final say over what it could claim. “There is no institutional protocol for approval of press releases and lines of authority are poorly defined,” according to the report. It found that Dr. Shim was given default authority over the news release text, and that he disregarded generally accepted standards as to when study results should be disseminated in news releases.
Now we often seem to have the worst of both worlds, with irresponsible researchers making extravagant and ill-founded claims and then egging on press agents to make even more extreme statements. Again, peer review has nothing to do with it. There is a problem with press releases that nobody is taking responsibility for.