By Katie Wright
Dr. Poul Thorsen is one of the world’s most influential and prolific autism researchers. It is currently alleged by his former employer, the University of Aarhus, that Thorsen stole nearly $2 million in grant money and lied about his secret dual employment at Emory University. If true, Thorsen is a clearly a person devoid of professional ethics. Given the depths of his alleged massive professional misconduct, the veracity of Thorsen’s autism research studies are now in doubt. Would you trust the research or scientist who would lie, steal and exploit others in order to advance himself? Me, neither. Would you trust that person with the health of all American children? No way, but the CDC and the AAP do.
Thorsen is Denmark’s most celebrated and successful autism scientist and certainly one of Europe’s top researchers. The idea that Thorsen was merely one of many little known authors listed in the “Pediatrics” 2002 and 2003 Hg and autism prevalence studies is preposterous.
To understand Thorsen one must examine the organization he controlled, the North Atlantic Neurological Epidemiology Alliance, or NANEA. NANEA was a bizarre cult like research organization, financed largely by our tax dollars, courtesy of the CDC. NANAE co-workers describe Thorsen as ruthlessly ambitious and consumed with self-importance. Gaining more recognition, garnering more CDC money and expanding his mini kingdom were top priorities.
The Danish newspaper “Information” recently interviewed many of Thorsen’s co-workers and what they had to say sheds a great deal of insight on autism’s greatest confidence man. A NANEA employee, Liesel, described Thorsen as the “leader and complete ruler” of the org. He cultivated a sense of profound entitlement and importance around NANEA. “ He asked NANEA scientists to wear special badges, shirts and epaulets. Clearly, wearing research costumes to work is strange. However this practice is eerily similar to the CDC with their epaulets, special caps and uniforms. Interesting!
Thorsen is described by all as incredibly ambitious willing to sacrifice others for a job. Lisel recounted instances in which friends of Thorsen received jobs while better-qualified candidates were rejected. Scientific and professional ethics were in short supply at NANAE. Thorsen created a loyalty incentive amongst his employees by secretly using grant money to pay NANAE employees much more than other Univ of Aarhus academics. In doing so, Thorsen stole money and had employees cheating on their taxes at the same time. Thorsen liked to describe NANAE as a high status “golden-like family.” In such an environment denial and unethical behavior ran unchecked as Thorsen “created an alternative research milieu.” Throughout lengthy interviews with NANAE employees it isn’t even surprising that autism is barely discussed.
Like American research centers, Danish universities wanted more money than their government allotted and turned to pharmaceutical companies and the CDC to finance much of their research. Thorsen had a reputation for being an incredible fundraiser; he was a huge rainmaker who knew how to work the grant system. Like in the U.S. the Danish grant-making system rewards the most successful bureaucrats, rather than innovative scientists. Conservative, unadventurous grants proposed by a well-known bureaucracy of academics was a successful recipe for raking in the money.
In 2000 Thorsen received $7.8 MILLION from the CDC to do, what turned out to be, rather slippery, problematic research of dubious value. Thorsen and his colleagues worked overtime, manipulating data, and changing the pre test and post test populations all in order to supply the CDC with the “alibi” research they sought. Please see the following posts for an in depth discussion of these fraudulent research studies. (Mark Blaxill on Industry Corruption of Scientific Journals: Is Something Rotten in Denmark? , Blaxill and Olmsted: Poul Thorsen's Mutating Resume and Robert Kennedy, Jr.: Central Figure in CDC Vaccine Cover-Up Absconds With $2M
Thorsen’s history of pleasing his CDC collaborators was surely the cornerstone of his academic status and success. Claus Emmeche of the Niels Bohr Institute at Aarhus described this new academic climate as one in which researchers had to justify their expense by constantly creating customers for their research. If Thorsen had done the autism prevalence and mercury research in a scientifically solid, professional manner and the results implicated the CDC, one wonders if he would have been awarded with such a generous second contract? Highly doubtful.
By interviewing a number of NANEA sect members- I mean employees, “Information” discovered obvious fiscal improprieties and questionable ethical practices were the norm. Limos picked up NANEA scientists at the airport; researchers drove Mercedes, flew business or first class, stayed in 5 hotels and held conferences in rented Danish castles. Former employees Toke and Liesel joked that NANAE’s nickname was “offsite.” Thorsen regularly took the staff away for lavish “academic” retreats; he referred to as “energy meetings.” What a freaky place.
Incredible, right? These are academic researchers at a small public university in the northern most regions of Europe, living like Beyonce or U2. And guess who was paying for all of this? That’s right, me, you and every other American taxpayer. NANEA’s “research funds” came largely from multi-million dollar CDC grants, purportedly to study autism.
How could CDC fail to be aware of these gross financial irregularities? NANAE employees report how surprised CDC personnel were when attending elaborate conferences in Denmark. Apparently, epidemiology conferences are rarely held in private castles. One would have thought this would have been a tip off regarding financial improprieties, but no. In fact NANAE’s parties and conferences just became more extravagant. An employee says NANEA meetings famous for “an opportunity for the best food and drink…summer parties, winter parties…” And still the CDC/ NANAE members Dr. Cathy Rice, Dr. Marshalyn Allsopp and Dr. Diana Schendel failed to request an audit or even take a closer look at the financial records. I wonder why?
An employee, Anya, noticed something wrong with the research on her first day of work. Isn’t that interesting? Anya got it on her first day but the CDC never caught on? The staff began to wonder about the finances but Thorsen would never discuss it. Anya describes Thorsen as a man with “an unfathomable moral sense. Under the competitive grant system, big sums were given to people like Thorsen. If you can sell yourself you secure yourself in the system. If you are immoral, you can have a great time.”
Despite all obvious signs that Thorsen was pilfering funds, the CDC gave Thorsen’s NANAE ANOTHER $8.2 million of our money in 2007. One can only speculate that despite his sloppy, error riddled and conflict of interest saturated research; Thorsen’s conclusions were very much to the CDC ‘s liking. He was their kind of scientist! Who cares if his research would not pass a stats 101 class, Thorsen was “proving” there was no relationship between vaccines and autism. They were off the hook!
By 2009 the CDC knew Thorsen stood accused of fabricating documents that promised more CDC grant money was coming but choose to keep quiet. Why wasn’t the CDC trying to get our money back? Why didn’t the CDC make this public? Why did American taxpayers find out about this theft merely by chance due to a Univ of Arhus letter distancing themselves from Thorsen? Could it be because they were embarrassed? Could it be because they did not want their prize research studies besmirched by the author’s profoundly unethical behavior? Your guess is as good as mine.
Meanwhile Thorsen is in hiding somewhere and his attorney, Jan Schneider is communicating with the Danish police. Thorsen is still listed as a contributor/editor on the new revised DSM V section on autism, a critically important diagnostic tool for Americans affected by autism. Until recently Thorsen was also listed as a professor and researcher at both Emory University and Drexel University, as well as a consultant at the CDC. Both universities have very close ties with the CDC and Emory is currently under a massive investigation for non disclose of pharmaceutical money and assorted unethical behavior. Isn’t it interesting that of all universities in the US Thorsen finds a home at Emory?
It is chilling to imagine the depths of this alleged’s felon’s influence on autism research and even more frightening that the CDC allowed this to happen.
Katie Wright is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.