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Lead Researcher Attacked on Landmark Study

April 14, 1992

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A researcher accused of fudging a link between lead exposure and low IQs in a landmark study says children will suffer if his findings are impeached.

″What happens here will affect more than my destiny,″ Dr. Herbert Needleman told an ethics panel at the University of Pittsburgh. The panel opened a hearing Monday into allegations that he manipulated data in his 1979 study.

Testimony was set to resume today.

The study, which found exposure to even small amounts of lead lowered IQs in children, is the basis for most federal policy banning lead from paints, fuels and other products.

Psychiatrist Claire Ernhart and psychologist Sandra Scarr testified Monday that Needleman left out important considerations about age and improperly dropped some children from his sample of about 2,100 youngsters.

″He didn’t report data that didn’t support his hypothesis, and that led to overdrawn conclusions,″ said Ms. Ernhart, a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The women reviewed the data in 1990 for testimony as defense witnesses in a lawsuit about contamination from lead tailings. Ms. Ernhart and Ms. Scarr, of the University of Virginia, reported their misgivings to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which asked Pitt for a review.

In his widely quoted study, Needleman tested the teeth of children in Chelsea and Somerville, Mass., and found low levels of lead reduced their IQ scores by four points. Lead hinders development of the central nervous system.

A professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, Needleman did the study while on the Harvard University faculty.

He said Monday he stood by his work and said Ms. Ernhart and Ms. Scarr were paid advocates of lead manufacturers and therefore biased.

Needleman asked Ms. Ernhart several times about her paid testimony for the lead industry, but she refused to answer, calling it irrelevant.

Ms. Scarr received $60,000 in science grants from the Lead Zinc Research Organization last year, and she and Ms. Ernhart frequently have testified on behalf of the lead industry.

If the panel finds the women’s allegations are true, Needleman, a tenured professor at the University of Pittsburgh, could be forced to return research grants and correct his findings in scientific journals. He also could be demoted, suspended or fired.

Leonard Minsky, executive director of the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, said the group is supporting Needleman because the allegations are groundless. The coalition is affiliated with Ralph Nader and the Public Citizen consumer organization.

Demonstrators outside the hearing room held a sign that read, ″On behalf of all children, we support and appreciate the work of Dr. Needleman.″

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