University officials reviewing instructor's procedure
OU officials are investigating a professor based on students’ claims that he experimented on them, broke research rules and practiced in unhygienic conditions.
Since May 2011, the OU Institutional Review Board has been investigating the practices of health and exercise science professor Chad Kerksick. One of his former graduate students, Patrick Dib, was the one who spurred the examination of Kerksick.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” Dib said. “I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy.”
Though other students were involved in the accusation as well, Dib said he offered to represent the group and spare them from having to continue discussing it.
Dib began his doctoral work at OU in August 2010 in Kerksick’s lab. The group’s first study began in November 2010, when it entered into an agreement with supplement company ThermoLife to study the effects of its creatine nitrate exercise supplement.
The Institutional Review Board approved the study’s protocol, and the group officially started in February 2011 with Kerksick as the primary investigator and Dib as the student coordinator, he said.
From the beginning, Dib said he noticed things that made him uncomfortable, including Kerksick wanting to enroll himself in the study to speed up results, which is against research rules.
“He should know this stuff,” Dib said. “He’s the head of a research committee of a sports organization. There’s no excuse whatsoever for this type of behavior.”
Though Kerksick said he was unable to provide any comments, The Daily obtained the review board document that outlines the allegations and Kerksick’s responses. In it, Kerksick states he did not know it was against the rules to enroll himself. Usually it is hard to find people to participate in studies, and he wanted to help his graduate students gather data for their research, according to the document.
Besides enrolling himself in the study, Kerksick also wanted Dib to enroll untrained students who did not meet the research guidelines to get better results, Dib said.
In its audit, the review board found four of seven students enrolled in one study and five of seven in another did not meet the approved standards. Students did not sign consent forms, and Kerksick kept poor records of his results, according to the review document.
These practices made Dib uncomfortable, he said, and he even offered to help implement a better note-taking system, but Kerksick declined.
In his statement to the review board, Kerksick accepts some blame for these practices but also said that as student coordinator, Dib had a responsibility to make sure the study was done properly.
During this time, Kerksick also wanted his graduate students to let him and others perform biopsies of fat tissue on them, Dib said. Kerksick had training in biopsies of muscle tissues but not fat. For a new study he was applying for, he needed to know how to biopsy fat and used his graduate students for practice.
“I had reservations for doing this, and I made that very clear, even though I had to do it because he would not leave me alone,” Dib said. “It was constant nagging: ‘When are you going to do yours? Your subjects will appreciate it.’”
In his statements, Kerksick maintains that these biopsies were solely for the educational purposes of his students, who were not coerced and consented. He also admits to saying in his grant proposal that he knew how to do the biopsies when he did not.
After completing the biopsy, Dib said he had massive bruising on his abdomen, which is documented with pictures. When he told Kerksick, Kerksick recommended putting some ice on it. In his statement, Kerksick said this is the first time he has ever had a complication in his five years of practice.
Other allegations against Kerksick are that he used the same scales to weigh human tissues as he did to weigh the supplements participants would consume. He also used the same instruments to practice on chicken meat as he would to research on humans, Dib said.
At this point, in April, Dib said he decided to find another lab to do research in and talk to a higher authority about what was going on.
“I mean, I trusted [him] to be my mentor, and [he’s] not showing me those characteristics,” Dib said. “I don’t admire [him]. I don’t want to be like [him]. This is not something I look for in a mentor.”
OU officials were receptive of his complaints, and the review board terminated all his studies in June 2011, according to documents obtained by The Daily.
As of Sunday, Kerksick’s lab remains listed on the health and exercise science website.
Dib said the leader of the supplement company blamed him for the failure of the studies and even sent emails to Kerksick asking for “Dib’s head in a box, please” or “both his thumbs,” according to emails obtained by The Daily. Kerksick responded he would do what he could to fix the issue.
OU officials refused to comment on the investigation, saying it was still ongoing.
“The university takes very seriously any complaints it receives and endeavors to do a thorough investigation of all such complaints,” OU spokesman Michael Nash said in an email statement. “For purposes of protecting both the complainant and the accused in such investigations, strict confidentiality is maintained. Rest assured, the university is dedicated to holding individuals accountable for findings of impropriety.”
Dib said he does not fault the university or the health and exercise science department for what happened to him and other students and is on good terms with them.
“[Kerksick] acted by himself. I still think OU is great,” Dib said.
Read Kerksick's response to the Institutional Review Board's allegations.
Read the Institutional Review Board's decision on Kerksick's research.
Read the emails exchanged between Kerksick and his supplement company regarding the failed studies.