Many readers of Pediatrics may have only a dim idea of the combative arena in which environmental research is conducted. Probably, very few have had the experience of being investigated for scientific misconduct. My aim in reviewing these two topics is to provide a preventive road map to others and to reveal some inadequacies and inequities in the investigative process. It is necessary, to accomplish this, to be direct and specific. Tact is sacrificed here for the sake of clear instruction.
In 1972 I published 700 words in Nature reporting that Philadelphia inner-city children had higher dentine lead levels than suburban children.1 The paper suggested that the tooth might be a useful marker to estimate body lead burden after exposure had ended. I did not know then that I was taking the first step toward being investigated for scientific misconduct by my university and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Scientific Integrity.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked me to present the 1972 tooth lead paper in Amsterdam at an international meeting on lead. I was unprepared by my past attendance at pediatric meetings for what I encountered there. This was no scholarly debate on the toxicology and epidemiology of lead; this was war. The speakers did not behave like academics hoping to embellish their reputations by parading the results of their last 6 months in the lab. These stakes were much higher.
Arrayed against each other were a small and defensive group of environmentalists and health scientists on one side, and on the other the representatives of the gasoline companies, including such formidable entities as EI DuPont, Associated Octel, Dutch Shell, and Ethyl Corporation of America.