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Fast-Multiplying Lawsuits Can Stymie Medical Science, Authors Warn

ren't so lucky."

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits release of data that can be used to identify patients, Racette notes. However, in many instances the extensive volume and particularity of data demanded by lawyers may still permit research subjects to be identified.

"To protect patient privacy and the value of our research data, we need specific, across-the-board restrictions on information that can be released in the courtroom," he says. "For example, Illinois has a law that designates medical research data as protected. That should be a model for other states."

The authors note that the substantial financial interests at stake in lawsuits often leads to biased research by well-paid expert witnesses. They cite the example of a Texas doctor found to be overdiagnosing a disease known as silicosis. The doctor had a financial interest in the number of patients diagnosed.

Peer review is of course a part of the regular scientific process, Racette notes, but a knowledgeable expert can design a study with a predetermined goal of discrediting earlier studies that linked a suspected toxin to a disease.

Industries on the defensive have also attempted to impugn the credibility of researchers. As an example, the authors cite the case of Herbert Needleman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and the first scientist to link lead exposure to low IQ levels in children. The lead industry attacked Needleman's integrity, alleging academic fraud and triggering investigations by the Federal Scientific Integrity Board and his university. The investigations failed to find any evidence of academic fraud, and Needleman's results were later replicated, leading to beneficial changes such as the removal of lead from gasoline.

"It's really quite an eye-opener," Racette says. "Herb Needleman had to endure great personal and financial hardships
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