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Research claiming link between electromagnetic fields and cancer deemed fraudulent

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 07 August 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:337
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. Florida

    Research linking electromag-netic fields with cancer has been found fraudulent by the Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In 1992 Dr Robert Liburdy, a cell biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, reported data that indicated that electromagnetic fields altered the entry of calcium across a cell's surface membrane.

    Dr Liburdy, whose work had won $3.3m (£2.06m) in federal grants, reported his findings in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science (1992;649:74-95) and in FEBS Letters (1992; 301:53-9), a publication of the Federation of European Biological Societies. In 1995, after a whistleblower challenged Dr Liburdy's results, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory confirmed that he had falsified data and notified the Office of Research Integrity.

    On 17 June the office stated in the federal register that Dr Liburdy engaged in scientific misconduct in biomedical re-search by intentionally falsifying and fabricating data and claims about the purported cellular effects of electric and magnetic fields. Dr Liburdy's claims were potentially very important when published in 1992 because they purported to link [electric and magnetic fields] and calcium signaling, a fundamental cell process governing many important cellular functions.” Dr Liburdy has vigorously denied that his re-search is wrong, claiming that the only point of contention is in the way he displayed the data graphically. However, federal investigators responded: “This is not a matter of interpretation or graphing … this is fabrication and falsification.” While neither admitting nor denying the Office of Research Integrity's finding of scientific misconduct, Dr Liburdy has agreed to exclude himself from federal contracts for three years and not to serve in an advisory capacity to the Public Health Service.

    Dr Liburdy resigned from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory last March. Last June, after a six year inquiry ordered by Congress, the National Institute of Environmental Health Science has concluded that the evidence for a risk of cancer and other human diseases from the electromagnetic fields around power lines is “weak.”

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