The Potti Mess: Why the delay?

✔Fellow Dukies, FC here. Friday, August 20.

Three weeks ago today, the Chronicle posted a special summer-time story about two investigations into the life and work of cancer researcher Dr. Anil Potti.

We will dispose of the "science" probe first, even though the immediate reason for this post is the internal "credentials" investigation.

For the scientific investigation, Duke will line up outsiders of impeccable reputation (external is the word used) to re-do an in-house investigation that Duke had completed last winter clearing Potti. FC need not recount for Loyal Readers the storm that this decision caused.

We learned three weeks ago today that Chancellor Dzau was talking -- even before he wrote an e-mail to the medical school faculty -- with Dr. Harold Varmus, Nobel Prize winning director of the National Cancer Institute. Varmus in turn had us in touch with the National Academy of Sciences which seemed ready to undertake -- and finance -- the investigation. Not bad.

Since Dzau's e-mail, we have not heard a damn peep. This is unacceptable and inspires no confidence. With the university's crown jewel, its medicine, under siege, and its reputation being sullied world-wide, we all have a vested interest.

No one is asking for information about Potti. We are asking for information about what Duke is doing. I am sick and tired of the PR effort to obfuscate the two.

We understand the scientific investigation is going to take time, months, maybe a year. That does not excuse the failure to inform us of the reason for the delay.

✔Now, the internal probe. If you think Fact Checker is worked up about the external probe, watch me launch into the internal probe for faculty misconduct, that is, Potti's lying about his credentials.

Three weeks ago today, Dzau gave the Chronicle an interview. He said this probe was "close to being completed."

The review had been in the hands of Dr. Michael Cuffe, vice dean of the medical school, but for reasons unannounced, Provost Lange superceded him. On that day Lange told the Chronicle the investigation would be completed "promptly." Indeed, Cuffe had offered a timetable when he was in charge that meant a verdict no latter than July 30.

So what the hell is going on? In three weeks since Dzau's e-mail, we have only two official statements. One says Duke wanted to give Potti a chance to find a lawyer; surely that has been done.

The other was a request from President Brodhead who joined with editors of the Herald-Sun for a chat, a request that stakeholders not reach a conclusion because "every allegation is not a truth."

Brodhead went on to embarrass himself and this university: "We want, therefore, is for people to back off until they can learn whether the allegation was true or whether the allegation was false or if there is some intermediate explanation..."

With so much at risk, stakeholders in Duke deserve a leader who is going to make solid pronouncements defining honor. Not muddle this mess more by diluting the concept.

✔FC has made NO inquiry to Duke administrators about matters of substance involving Potti. FC has requested substantial information about the process involved in this review -- due process if you want a legal phrase.

This has nothing to do with the turmoil of the moment, and everything to do with fairness. One of the factors distinguishing the American system of government is our open knowledge of the judicial system, not being subjected to a kangaroo court or star chamber where we do not even know the rules.

OK Lange has the investigation. Will he make a decision, or will he make a recommendation to Brodhead?

Is Lange operating alone, or did he create a panel? Who is on the panel? If we cannot be told, why?

How will the panel operate? Is there a "prosecutor" who will go up against Potti's lawyer?

Will the panel make decisions by a unanimous vote, by a super majority, or by a simple majority?

What misconduct is needed for Duke to fire a faculty member? Is one gross instance -- like a bald flat out lie about a Rhodes Scholarship -- enough? Or must there be a pattern of misconduct, which, as Loyal Readers know, FC has outlined in great detail.

A Deputy Fact Checker did ask two questions relevant to Potti: Does he have tenure? And is his suspension from his post as a medical school associate professor, or a cancer center researcher, or both?

The Deputy also asked what it means when a faculty member is placed on "administrative leave" with full pay, in as much as we have unconfirmed reports of Potti in his office and lab. Again, a policy question very much in the public interest, not a Potti question.

As FC has noted, Michael Schoenfeld, VP for public relations and obfuscation, has not even acknowledged any of these requests. You can bet your seats in Cameron to the Carolina game that the flack would have answered immediately if we were cheering Brodhead's leadership.

✔Mr. Brodhead, your penchant for secrecy..... wrong word.... Mr. Brodhead, your insistence on secrecy in everything surrounding the Allen Fortress is costing you whatever support you have left on this campus. To borrow some words from history, and not to be cute about it by repeating the name of the disease, a cancer grows on your presidency.

✔None of this touches the factor that bothers me most: 107 or 109 patients whose treatment for lung and breast cancer was determined by the "science" of Potti and his crew. These people gave up other therapies to participate in his human experiments, and a Who's Who of genome researchers world-wide says they are in substantial danger.

I gather Chancellor Dzau does not share that evaluation. But we need more re-assurance than what FC can "gather" on such a crucial issue. Has each of these people been contacted? Tell us what Duke told them? Is there a letter? Let's see it.

Or are the lawyers muzzling you -- knowing that this is going to cause a cauldron of malpractice lawsuits not only from the 107, but from more than 1500 who underwent painful and risky procedures to donate tissue for Potti to check their DNA and RNA.

It has never meant more to be a stakeholder in Duke, for this institution is at a moment of great challenge that requires our vigilance to protect our great school's integrity. Stakeholders, from the newest freshman to the oldest alum, from someone laboring earnestly and loyally at the bottom of the pay scale to the retired professor who held an endowed chair, have a great responsibility. This is not a matter for the current batch of administrators alone, as they themselves have shown.

✔FC will post the promised essay next time: Comparing the Potti Mess and the investigation into Hellenga's Hell. The two-faced standard the Brodhead Administration is using for conflict of interests.

Thank you for reading and supporting FC.

Email: Duke.Fact.Checker@gmail.com
Blog: http://dukefactchecker.blogspot.com/

1 comment:

  1. As a general rule, a faculty member of Associate rank has tenure.

    BTW, I was banned from commenting at the Chronicle because with respect to an article on privacy that took a snarky jab at Ryan McFayden, I suggested that Duke was a threat to student privacy because McFayden's infamous should-have-been private email somehow found its way into the hands of Durham Police. If I really cared, I could spoof my way back into the system but I can't be bothered.

    Keep up the good work.


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