Friday, April 8, 2016

Utah Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleges Data Errors, Research Misconduct as CDC Report Releases U.S. Autism Rate of 1.5%


CDCExterior view of CDC′s Roybal campus in Atlanta, GA. Photo: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC announced today an autism rate of 1 in 68 children (1.5% of eight year olds surveyed in 2012) for those born in 2004, unchanged from the last reported rate for children born in 2002. Meanwhile, the United States District Court for the District of Utah is preparing to hear critical motions on April 4th from a former CDC researcher and whistleblower. Although the lawsuit is directed primarily to the University of Utah, the whistleblower has also alleged that the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, allowed research misconduct and persistent data errors in their autism prevalence reports. These whistleblower allegations reveal serious concerns over the legitimacy and integrity of the CDC’s management of its widely cited ADDM Network reports.

In documents filed on January 4, 2016 in the Federal District Court, District of Utah, (Case No. 2:13-cv-1131) the former Principal Investigator for the Utah ADDM Network site, Judith Pinborough-Zimmerman asked for the right to a jury trial to adjudicate a range of claims against her employer, the University of Utah, with respect to Zimmerman’s work as an autism researcher for the ADDM Network. According to the January 4 motion, “Dr. Zimmerman was a successful University employee until she accused [her supervisor], among others, of research misconduct and ethical misconduct. Defendants retaliated against Dr. Zimmerman for raising legal and ethical questions of employees’ impropriety, and took multiple adverse actions against Dr. Zimmerman because of her protected speech; her age; her disability; and her religion. Defendants also breached its contract with Dr. Zimmerman and denied her due process and liberty rights.”

Zimmerman’s complaint includes specific concerns over alleged uncorrected errors in the ADDM Network’s reported autism analysis for Utah. Zimmerman “reported that [university researchers] were publishing data under people’s names who had not done the work and that the data contained uncorrected errors. [emphasis added]” Dr. Zimmerman further testified, “I think the fact that I reported data errors, research misconduct, is significant.” According to the lawsuit, knowledge of these errors was not confined to Utah. “On or about December 2012, Dr. Zimmerman also reported the same concerns she had made to the University’s Privacy & Security office to the United States Department of Health and Human Services…. She reported her concerns to the CDC as well. “  MORE