Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, among Germany’s leading psychologists and a professional in dealing with stress and anxiety and fears, is not shy about promoting himself. His e-mail signature states he is a “extremely pointed out scientist,” and with great factor. He has nearly 1000 short articles to his name, according to the Web of Science, and has actually acquired almost 70,000 citations. He is an editor of Germany’s diagnostic and analytical handbook of mental illness– the bible of medical psychology– and till 2017, he led a psychology research study institute at the Dresden University of Innovation (TU Dresden).
Yet his track record is under fire after an examination into among his research studies discovered proof of adjustment– and intricate efforts to conceal the misbehaviour. The examination report, committed TU Dresden in February and gotten by Science, likewise reveals Wittchen daunted whistleblowers and forced senior TU Dresden personnel. The Federal Joint Committee (G-BA), a public health company, is taking legal action against the business it paid to do the research study. And the Dresden public district attorney’s workplace is now examining criminal charges connected to the research study.
Wittchen was among the leading epidemiologists of psychiatry, and TU Dresden “has actually benefited considerably from him,” states Jürgen Margraf, a psychologist at Ruhr University, Bochum, who has actually teamed up with Wittchen. “If the commission’s findings end up being real, they are extremely troubling for the whole field, which would likewise have an effect on TU Dresden.” Thomas Pollmächer, director of the psychological university hospital at Ingolstadt Medical facility, states the accusations are “surprising.” He stresses over other possible abnormalities in Wittchen’s substantial publication record. “A long time bombs might be ticking,” he states.
The research study in concern was a EUR2.4 million study of staffing levels and quality at almost 100 German psychiatric centers. Working for TU Dresden’s Association for Understanding and Innovation Transfer (GWT), Wittchen was the primary private investigator of the effort, which intended to analyze work at the centers and notify federal government guidelines.
However in February 2019, German media reported accusations, originating from whistleblowers near the study task, that study information had actually been produced. The university introduced an official examination, led by law teacher Hans-Heinrich Trute.
After 2 years of work, the commission, in its last report, has actually discovered that just 73 of 93 psychiatric centers were really surveyed. For the others, the report states, Wittchen advised scientists to copy information from one center and use them to another. “The infractions were deliberate, not irresponsible,” the report states. “Wittchen wished to appear more effective than he was.”
Wittchen informed Science he would not respond to comprehensive concerns “since they are the problem of legal procedures.” However he rejects any misbehavior and states the research study in concern was “clinically proper.”
The examination report likewise demonstrates how Wittchen looked for to prevent consequences. In April 2019, he sent out an e-mail to Hans Müller-Steinhagen, president of TU Dresden at the time, alerting him to “avoid of the task” and stop the examination, since otherwise there would be a “nationwide political earthquake.” “I want to alert you … as soon as again personally and in complete confidence that you are taking a severe threat here,” Wittchen composed in the e-mail.
The 2 whistleblowers, junior members of GWT, dealt with pressure, too, according to e-mails gotten by Science Wittchen asked GWT’s director to think about dismissing the whistleblowers– in order to conserve cash. In another file, he implicated them of being accountable for the research study abnormalities. “I will … safeguard myself with all legal ways versus this mess,” he composed to a group of study scientists that consisted of the whistleblowers. According to the commission report, Wittchen even provided the 2 whistleblowers a prewritten letter to sign, in which they would pull back all allegations and say sorry.
Private investigators discovered signs that Wittchen controlled files to cover his tracks, consisting of discussion slides, e-mails, and perhaps even signatures. He has actually “revealed a determination to misguide the examination from the start by ways of deceptiveness and adjustment,” the report states. “If these observations held true, they would be within the world of criminal sanctions.”
For his part, Wittchen states the issues with the study were an innocent error. In a 70-page rejection consisted of in the examination report, he declares the duplicated information in the study were statistically proper and merely not described effectively.
Although the report concentrated on the supposed clinical misbehavior, it likewise consists of tips of possible corruption. It keeps in mind accusations that Wittchen used his child in the task for about 2 years– although the other personnel never ever saw her doing any deal with it. Wittchen’s child decreased to discuss the accusations.
The commission discovers fault with TU Dresden and GWT for not adequately securing the whistleblowers, who stayed secondary to Wittchen throughout the examination. When among the whistleblowers asked GWT for a task recommendation, the demand wound up with Wittchen, who provided him a bad recommendation.
The commission likewise slams Katja Beesdo-Baum, a behavioral epidemiologist at TU Dresden and long time associate of Wittchen’s who was deputy head of the study task. A couple of days after the accusations ended up being public in February 2019, Beesdo-Baum called an amazing conference of the institute. There, staff members were advised of their task to preserve secrecy, states a teacher who existed at the time, according to the report. The staff members “had the sensation of being muzzled,” he states. Beesdo-Baum states the commission did not implicate her of misbehavior which her function in the affair will be talked about internally.
Wittchen quit his professorship at TU Dresden in 2017 when he reached an age limitation. In 2017, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich employed him as a going to teacher, however a representative states it suspended Wittchen’s agreement this month, after knowing of the accusations. Last month, the university erased the 2017 news release revealing its hiring of Wittchen. In a declaration, the German Mental Society states it thinks about the accusations in the report so “extremely serious” that it has actually assembled a court of honor that might withdraw Wittchen’s subscription. GWT provided a declaration stating that in its 25 years of presence, throughout countless research studies, it has actually never ever come across “similar abnormalities.”
On The Other Hand, a TU Dresden representative states the university is examining extra accusations of corruption. It is assessing possible sanctions versus Wittchen and anticipates to decide in mid-April, at the earliest. The Dresden public district attorney’s workplace has actually likewise introduced a criminal examination. The workplace states that for “tactical factors” it is not divulging information of the examination however that it will “spend some time.”
This story was produced in a cooperation with BuzzFeed News Germany.