Monday, October 8, 2012

The human and institutional impact of #AnnieDookhan

From this week's C&EN, Carmen Drahl writes up the Annie Dookhan story:
Credit: Chemical and Engineering News
According to a police report obtained by the Boston Globe, Dookhan told investigators that she forged coworkers’ initials on reports for mass spectrometer calibrations, intentionally contaminated samples, and engaged in “dry-labbing”—identifying narcotics by sight rather than by chemical analysis. In interviews with police, several colleagues said they’d expressed concern to supervisors about Dookhan’s unusually high productivity. Her résumé lists a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, but she does not hold that credential according to school officials. 
“This is a calamity,” says Justin J. McShane, a defense attorney in Harrisburg, Pa., who is closely watching the case. Because the evid­ence Dookhan allegedly mishandled was more than likely destroyed in the normal course of business, no traceable information exists to correctly characterize samples in thousands of drug cases, he explains.
I think it is worth noting that the impact that the Annie Dookhan scandal has had, and will have on both individuals and institutions is pretty huge. (It easily rivals the Sheri Sangji case with both its breadth and depth of impact.) It sounds like people went to prison (or went to prison longer) because of Ms. Dookhan's misdeeds -- what a travesty.

13 comments:

  1. I think Annie Dookhan is a fantastic and chilling example of how the wrong person in the right kind of job can do tremendous damage. And I think this discrepancy between employee status and consequences is especially big for government organizations where a lowly pencil pusher can wield enormous power over your life.

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    1. There's some sort of analogy to Bruce Schneier-like concepts of "resilient or brittle" security. It is tremendously clear to me that the Mass drug lab system was terribly, terribly brittle if one person could do this level of damage.

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  2. I'm surprised by the 34,000 cases she was "connected" to, and only the 1141 convictions. Why such the great discrepancy? Based on just these numbers, it appears that a tremendous number of samples are submitted and most prove to be worthless. Anyone working in a crime lab that can support/deny this?

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    1. I bet many of the other 32,900 or so were plea deals. I wonder how many times an innocent person facing decades in prison decided to play it safe and take 5 or 10 years.

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    2. Yeah, never thought of plea deals.

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    3. Yes, a large number of samples are negative. Especially in this day and age, there is a lot of evidence that is submitted "just in case" and everyone is just trying to protect themselves. It does makes more work for your forensic scientists.

      As a past forensic scientist, although I was in the biology section, this is absolutely horrifying. I honestly don't see how this could have happened for so long. There just are so many checks and reviews, at least there were in my section. I know the co-workers MUST have seen something and pointed it out, and not in a "hey, she worked more cases then me", but in a "something is NOT right sort of way." I know that was the case in my lab. ;)

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  3. Who the heck is her boss? That person deserves to have his/her name outed and dragged through the mud for failing to notice anything over a period of 9 years. I bet it's some unfireable bureaucrat who will be protected from any consequences.

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    1. There's been a wave of resignations, etc. from this case. The biggest head to get chopped was the Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner who resigned. Immediate supervisors do not seem to have been affected yet (?) -- I need to double check.

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    2. They shouldn't be allowed to go quietly - I'd like to see them outed on the Internet so they can't sneak into another lab with some B.S. story about being downsized. Dookhan's career is rightly ruined, and those who were asleep at the wheel should suffer the same fate.

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    3. I don't know the structure of the bureaucracy at this lab, but it sounds like Annie's immediate supervisors were complaining to higher ups who seemingly dismissed their concerns. Perhaps these were some of the people?

      http://jamaicaplain.patch.com/articles/bosses-fired-resign-over-jamaica-plain-evidence-lab-scandal

      At any rate, if her immediate supervisors were trying to put the red flag up, they shouldn't be punished. They've lost their jobs too since the lab has been shuttered, I would consider that punishment enough for something they didn't do.

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  4. As an aside, I was chatting with one of the top HPLC/GC instructors in the US who mentioned he's been running courses exclusively for defense attorneys recently, who are looking for the knowledge to catch some of these errors.

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  5. How did they never ask for the transcripts of her degree? And presumably never had a reference letter from anyone connected with that qualification?

    I mean to get a TT position they are even asking for transcripts of my undergrad degree... like somehow I dont have one, despite the PhD and first-authored peer reviewed publications...

    Utterly shocking.

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  6. This case is absolutely disgusting. MA taxpayers are going to be paying big time for her transgressions.

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