Whistleblowers: Disgraced researcher rebuilds career in US

April 25, 2003

A scientist sacked from Cambridge's prestigious Babraham Institute over fraudulent research is working successfully in the US, The THES can reveal.

Tor Savidge was dismissed from Babraham in 1997 after being disciplined for fabricating data for a presentation at a major international conference.

But The THES has discovered that he is now working as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, working in the field of children's medicine.

Dr Savidge was found to have used false data as part of a presentation of his research findings at a 1997 meeting of the Colorado-based Keystone Symposia, an international academic network for the biomedical and life sciences.

Babraham held a disciplinary investigation and Dr Savidge was given a formal written warning regarding the fraud. He was formally dismissed in 1997 on the grounds of a "breakdown in trust" between him and Babraham director Richard Dyer. It is understood that Dr Savidge appealed to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which upheld his dismissal.

Dr Savidge this week told The THES: "My dismissal was stated to have been the result of a breakdown in trust between Dr Dyer and myself and was not specifically related to the Keystone incident." He said that he had merely presented data at the conference "prematurely", and the data were "subsequently shown to be scientifically sound". Dr Dyer declined to comment on the case.

Dr Savidge was supported vociferously at the time by John Walker-Smith, head of the department of paediatric gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital, University College London. In a letter of support he said that the action against Dr Savidge was draconian and he should be reinstated.

The letter is understood to have angered some staff at Babraham, who viewed it as an attempt to brush the matter under the carpet.

Professor Walker-Smith, now retired, told The THES this week: "There was no cover-up, the fraudulent act was admitted as a very serious error of judgement, with appropriate contrition."

He said that although his involvement was "marginal" as he had not worked with Dr Savidge at the time, he wrote the letter, which he considered confidential, at Dr Savidge's request.

"From my own experience I had always found Tor Savidge hitherto to be a person of the highest integrity. He had admitted that he had committed a fraudulent act, for which he was fully penitent. I therefore felt it to be draconian to dismiss him as this would make him likely to be unemployable in this country. I deplore fraud in all its manifestations and what he did was clearly wrong, but publicly admitted by him."

In 1999, Dr Savidge was employed as an assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, by W. Allan Walker, professor of paediatrics and nutrition at Harvard Medical School. They have subsequently published together, including a paper published in December 2002 on the effect of milk on babies' immune systems.

Professor Walker said: "Dr Savidge disclosed to me that he had been involved in a situation in which he had misrepresented data on one graph that had been presented at a professional meeting. With full knowledge of this incident during the hiring process I checked with many individuals who had worked closely with and overseen Dr Savidge's work. They all confirmed that he was a fine scientist who had made an unfortunate error."

Dr Savidge said: "All parties involved in my subsequent employment were made fully aware at the outset of the circumstances relating to the Babraham issues.

"These events took place over six years ago and were dealt with through formal established procedures. Since that time I have attempted to put these issues behind me and have ensured that all my professional duties have been undertaken with the highest level of integrity and probity."

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