Eric T. Poehlman (born c. 1956), a scientist in the field of human obesity and aging, was the first academic in the United States to be jailed for falsifying data in a grant application. His notorious crime was to publish utterly fraudulent research alleging hormone replacement injections as a therapy for menopause, when in fact it had no proven medical benefits at all.
He joined the University of Vermont (UVM) College of Medicine in 1987 as an assistant professor, later working for three years at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He eventually returned to UVM as a full professor. Poehlman built a reputation as one of the leading authorities on the metabolic changes that come with aging, particularly during menopause; he published more than 200 journal articles over two decades of research. His papers included research on the genetics of obesity and the impact of exercise, often following human subjects over time to document changes in their physiology. However, his stellar career unravelled when Poehlman's misconduct was detected and exposed by a former University of Vermont lab technician, Walter DeNino, who once viewed Poehlman as his mentor. Poehlman was accused of scientific misconduct and on March 17, 2005 pleaded guilty to the charges, acknowledging falsifying 17 grant applications to the National Institutes of Health and fabricating data in 10 of his papers that were submitted between 1992 and 2000.
On June 28, 2006, Poehlman was ordered to serve a year and a day in federal prison for using falsified data in federal research grants that he submitted for funding. An official with the National Institutes of Health said that this was the first case where an academic research scientist was given prison time for falsifying data in grant submissions.[who?] In a plea bargain that he made with the prosecutors, Poehlman pleaded guilty with one $542,000 grant; the government prosecutors stated that Poehlman had defrauded agencies out of $2.9 million.
"Dr. Poehlman fraudulently diverted millions of dollars," said David V. Kirby, the US attorney for Vermont. "This in turn siphoned millions of dollars from the pool of resources available for valid scientific research proposals. As this prosecution proves, such conduct will not be tolerated."
Before imposing the sentence, Judge William Sessions III said "I generally think deterrence is significant, perhaps more so in this case. The scientific community may be watching." Sessions reprimanded Poehlman for his misconduct, saying he had "violated the public trust."
In addition to jail time, Poehlman will be permanently barred from getting more federal research grants, and was ordered by the court to write letters of retraction and correction to several scientific journals.
- Rex Dalton (2005-03-24). "Obesity expert owns up to million-dollar crime". Nature 434 (7032): 424. doi:10.1038/434424a. PMID 15791215.
- Jeneen Interlandi (2006-10-22). "An Unwelcome Discovery". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-23.