Science 09 Apr 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6538, pp. 117-118
Here is an excerpt:
Wittchen was one of the top epidemiologists of psychiatry, and TU Dresden “has benefited greatly from him,” says Jürgen Margraf, a psychologist at Ruhr University, Bochum, who has collaborated with Wittchen. “If the commission’s findings turn out to be true, they are very disturbing for the entire field, and that would also have an impact on TU Dresden.” Thomas Pollmächer, director of the mental health center at Ingolstadt Hospital, says the allegations are “startling.” He worries about other possible irregularities in Wittchen’s extensive publication record. “Some time bombs may be ticking,” he says.
The study in question was a €2.4 million survey of staffing levels and quality at nearly 100 German psychiatric facilities. Working for TU Dresden’s Association for Knowledge and Technology Transfer (GWT), Wittchen was the principal investigator of the effort, which aimed to examine workloads at the clinics and inform government regulations.
But in February 2019, German media reported allegations, stemming from whistle-blowers close to the survey project, that study data had been fabricated. The university launched a formal investigation, led by law professor Hans-Heinrich Trute.
After 2 years of work, the commission, in its final report, has found that only 73 of 93 psychiatric clinics were actually surveyed. For the others, the report says, Wittchen instructed researchers to copy data from one clinic and apply them to another.
“The violations were intentional, not negligent,” the report says. “Wittchen wanted to appear more successful than he was.”
Wittchen told Science he would not answer detailed questions “because they are the issue of legal proceedings.” But he denies any wrongdoing and says the study in question was “scientifically correct.”
The investigation report also shows how Wittchen sought to avoid repercussions.
In April 2019, he sent an email to Hans Müller-Steinhagen, president of TU Dresden at the time, warning him to “stay out of the project” and stop the investigation, because otherwise there would be a “national political earthquake.”