Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Result of Shoddy Science
Richard Allen Williams spent 14 months in jail accused of 10 murders at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Mo., only to be freed after authorities decided that incriminating lab tests were faulty.
On June 3, 2002, prosecutors filed charges against Williams, accusing him of injecting the muscle relaxant to paralyze his victims so they could not breathe. He was arrested the same day.

All the victims died on the hospital's Ward 4E, and all while Williams was on duty. The charges capped nearly 10 years of investigation into more than 40 deaths.

Then, 14 months after the charges were brought, Crane announced that he had received a new report from Ballard, saying the chemical succinylmonocholine could have entered the tissue samples from some unknown source.
Williams' attorneys, Maurice Graham and Morry Cole, say in the suit that National Medical and Ballard failed to test their methodology, leading to repeated "false positives."

In addition, the suit says that the defendants failed to realize that their method did not take into account "background" levels of succinylmonocholine. That failure could have been avoided if they had used "accepted and customary professional care," the suit says.
Any valid scientific method should employ internal controls to allow for quantification of a substance and determination if the levels are significantly above what would normally be seen. Without additional information one can't say that normal presence of low levels of this substance necessarily negates the findings (e.g., most of us have blood glucose levels in 'normal' ranges while diabetics may be identified by levels significantly over those levels hence significantly; large quantities could still be evidence of the 'introduction' of the compound). Personally, call me a skeptic but my belief in coincidence doesn't extend to 40 deaths on the same ward with the same staff in attendence. The science is shoddy nonetheless. So, either an innocent man was wrongly incarcerated for 14 months and may receive multimillion dollar compensation or a guilty man is let free and potentially rewarded with millions. The result of shoddy science is never good.


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