Editorial: Bad science at the State Lab

October 12, 2012

The State Laboratory Institute is all about science. So one might expect a scientific response to the drug lab crisis. That response would be to test and prove the state’s hypothesis that everything is A-OK in the 17 other labs there.

So it is good news that the state legislature is prepping an investigation. But in other sections of government, the state is opting for irrational wishful thinking. It wants the other labs to be OK, so it pretends they are without any investigation or exam.

UMass Medical School not only claims to be unsure whether infamous chemist Annie Dookhan previously worked in one of its labs in the building; it also says it doesn’t care enough to find out, or to check work she might have done. Just trust in the system, the school says. We can only hope UMass Medical isn’t training doctors with that attitude. Check-ups are a good thing.

The state Department of Public Health is dragging its feet in releasing any existing lab inspection reports. They should have been released when the Dookhan crisis was announced to reassure the public, or at least inform them if the results are in fact not reassuring.

For too long, politics overcame science at the drug lab. The legislature may have screwed up in underfunding it and mashing it together with disease labs. The Patrick administration screwed up in not supervising it properly.

Inside the lab, work quotas and jockeying for promotions reportedly were more important than the scientific method there in Dookhan’s time.

Gov. Patrick was right to shut down the drug lab, transfer its activity to a police lab, and make some heads roll. But that’s just cleanup. It doesn’t tell us what went wrong and how to prevent it. It sure doesn’t tell us that everything else is fine inside the State Lab.

We ask the state legislature to examine the State Lab thoroughly, fairly and fearlessly. The only answer to bad science is good science.

We need science, not politics, at the State Lab.