Bioethics Blogs

U of Maryland Scapegoats IRB and Researcher for PR Foul Up

The University of Maryland has released a report on the problematic December 2015 press release, which included unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of a sports drink based on chocolate milk. While the press release was indeed a disaster, the university report fails to hold to account the people most responsible. Instead, it makes matters worse by accusing the researcher and the IRB of transgressions they did not commit, and by recommending drastic changes that are unnecessary and burdensome.

Shielding the staff who wrote a bad press release

The university issued the press release on 22 December 2015. As reported by Jesse Singal among others, the press release purported to summarize findings from a scientific study by kinesiologist Jae Shim, but the study had not been published, or even submitted for publication. The best the university could produce was a junky PowerPoint file that suggested serious methodological problems (no control group) and, notes Singal, “serious statistical red flags.” As Singal writes, “What happened here happened only because the University of Maryland trampled upon very well-established norms about what it means to publish a press release about a ‘study’ on a dot-edu website.”

The untitled March 25, 2016, report on the incident was written by five professors: two psychologists, a geologist, a chemist, and a chemical engineer. The last, Denis Wirtz, is the vice provost for research at Johns Hopkins, while the rest are current or emeritus Maryland faculty.

Their report claims to offer “a detailed sequence of events beginning with the development of the proposal and ending with the release of the study results to the press.” In fact, it obscures the identity of the individuals and offices responsible for the press release behind the passive voice:

“By May 20, 2015, preparation for Press Release 1 was well underway …”

“July 15, 2015.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.