Since its inception a few years ago, the Preceptorial Program has succeeded in bringing together Penn undergraduates and some of the University's most dynamic professors. The preceptorials -- which attract the interest of thousands of registrants each semester -- offer students the unmatched opportunity to meet some of this nation's leading and most revered thinkers in an intimate setting, be it in a classroom, around the dinner table or even on a day trip to a local landmark. Next semester, though, some preceptorial participants are going to have a decidedly different experience during their session. Yes, they will be meeting with a well-known academic figure. And yes, they will have the opportunity to bounce ideas off a professor with a history of pioneering research in his field. Sadly, though, they will be meeting with Institute for Human Gene Therapy Director James M. Wilson, the very same professor whose credibility has been compromised by a string of serious research deficiencies, and whose shoddy methods may have directly led to the death of a young man. And that meeting, to put it bluntly, is one which should never happen. The selection of Wilson as a preceptorial leader is nothing less than a revocation of the principle that has made the preceptorial program so successful -- the commitment to bringing top-flight students together with top-flight academics. Unfortunately, "top-flight" is a term that can no longer be used to describe Wilson. His IHGT has been subject to a number of federal research restrictions, and he is currently undergoing an institutional review that may inevitably deny him the right to research on humans in this country ever again. Those qualities are not ones that should be brought before undergraduates in a setting of debate and discussion. They are, in fact, qualities that should have earned Wilson his dismissal from this University months ago. Preceptorial organizers argue that Wilson's controversial history -- that of trial and horrible, horrible error -- is exactly the background that can make a session with him so dynamic. But that justification fails to account for the serious lapses in moral and ethical judgment that have clouded his recent history, and should not be lauded as an example for others. What's more, the organizers seem to have completely ignored the fact that Wilson has been linked with research deficiencies that led to the death of 18-year old Arizona teenager Jesse Gelsinger, who died while participating in an IHGT clinical trial in 1999. Putting Wilson in front of a group of undergraduates as a symbol worthy of reverence is a slap in the face to Gelsinger's memory -- and a serious threat to the principles of scientific integrity, which Wilson has violated again and again.Comments powered by Disqus
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