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Former Harvard Researcher Faked Sleep Apnea Study

Apr 13, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A former Harvard researcher has admitted falsifying a medical study.  According to, Dr. Robert Fogel has been disciplined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for faking data in a sleep apnea study funded by federal research grants.

This is the second time in recent months that a medical researcher has been caught falsifying a study.  As we reported last month, medical journals have been asked to retract drug studies involving Vioxx, Celebrex, Lyrica and other drugs that were conducted by Dr. Scott S. Reuben of Baystate Medical Center.  

Because of Reuben’s “research”, it had become routine for doctors to combine the use of painkillers like Celebrex and Lyrica for patients undergoing common procedures such as knee and hip replacements. Not surprisingly, Reuben has strong ties with the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Journal, he had been a paid speaker on behalf of Pfizer - the maker of Lyrica and Celebrex - and it paid for some of his research. Wyeth provided $10,000 in grant money to. Reuben from 2001 to 2003, the Journal said. Merck also funded some of Reuben’s work.

Fogel also has ties to the pharmaceutical industry.  Since leaving Harvard, Fogel has been employed by Merck Research Laboratories, where he is now director of clinical research at its respiratory and allergy division in Rahway, N.J.  

According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2006 Fogel apparently confessed to his former supervisor at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital that he had falsified data in the 2003 sleep apnea study.  According to the Office of Research Integrity at HHS, Fogel:

  • Changed/falsified roughly half of the physiologic data
  • Fabricated roughly 20% of the anatomic data that were supposedly obtained from Computed Tomography (CT) images
  • Changed/falsified 50 to 80 percent of the other anatomic data
  • Changed/falsified roughly 40 to 50 percent of the sleep data so that those data would better conform to his hypothesis.
  • Published some of the falsified and fabricated data in an abstract in  the journal Sleep  in  2001.

According to, Fogel falsified the data so that  it would conform with his hypothesis.  The falsified paper concluded that the shape and volume of a person's airway combines with obesity to make those patients more likely to suffer sleep apnea.

According to the Office of Research Integrity at HHS, Fogel has entered into a voluntary disciplinary settlement, in which he agreed, among other things, to be excluded from research funded by the US Public Health Service for three years unless he is actively supervised.

Fogel told the publication The Scientist that since his admission, Harvard's office of research integrity reviewed 30 studies in which he was involved.  He told The Scientist that the 2003 sleep apnea study was the only one that included fake data.

"What I did was obviously horrendously wrong," Fogel told the magazine. "I never really thought through the consequences, and once I did this I got myself into a loop that I found I couldn't get out of."

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