A scientist whose 1992 study linking high-voltage power lines to cancer contributed to public fears was found to have faked his data and has left the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the government said today.
Richard P. Liburdy had claimed to have found a link between the electromagnetic fields around power lines and certain cellular changes in the body.
After a whistle-blower complained, the federal Office of Research Integrity investigated and concluded that Liburdy had committed scientific misconduct by tossing out data that did not support his conclusions, said the agency's director, Chris Pascal.
"The evidence demonstrates Liburdy knew his data manipulations were significant to the conclusions of the paper," the agency said.
Liburdy, a 51-year-old cellular biologist who lives in Tiburon, outside San Francisco, resigned his 15-year position in March, the San Francisco Chronicle said.
In May, he agreed to ask the scientific journals that published his work to retract three key graphs.
Liburdy also agreed to a three-year ban on receiving federal funds.
However, in a letter in last month's issue of the journal Science, he denied doing anything wrong other than failing to explain his graphing procedures.
"My scientific conclusions stand as published," Liburdy wrote. "I admit no scientific wrongdoing. I could not afford a protracted legal battle with the ORI, and a settlement was reached by which I admit no liability."
Three independent scientists who evaluated the facts at Liburdy's request supported him, the Chronicle reported.
The possibility that electromagnetic fields can cause childhood leukemia and other illnesses has raised fears among people living near high-tension power lines.
The theory had been raised well before Liburdy's study, but he found what was thought to be the first plausible biological explanation for such a connection. However, at least 20 subsequent studies failed to find any conclusive link of the sort he described.