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UF will investigate allegations of pressure to destroy COVID-19 data

The university “takes breaches of research integrity very seriously,” a top official said.
In this aerial view, Century Tower rises from the center of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville.
In this aerial view, Century Tower rises from the center of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. [ University of Florida ]
Published Dec. 10, 2021|Updated Dec. 10, 2021

The University of Florida said Friday it has launched an investigation into allegations that some of its researchers faced pressure from outside the school to destroy COVID-19 data.

The allegations surfaced earlier this week in a report by a Faculty Senate committee looking into issues of academic freedom at the university.

David Norton, vice president of research at UF
David Norton, vice president of research at UF [ University of Florida ]

“(UF) takes breaches in research integrity very seriously and has a long-standing, rigorous process in place to investigate them,” vice president for research David Norton said in a message to faculty and staff.

Related: UF president, faculty agree on changes to safeguard free speech

The Faculty Senate report was commissioned after three political science professors were initially barred from testifying in a lawsuit against the state over voting rights, prompting an outcry. The report outlined widespread concerns among faculty — from a professor who was challenged when he used the words “critical” and “race” to describe his specialization, to researchers who, while working with an unnamed state agency, faced “external pressure to destroy” COVID-19 data.

Danaya Wright, a law professor and member of the committee that compiled the report, said it was important the allegations raised “never happen again.”

“I hope that this event provides an impetus to build in safeguards,” she said.

In a statement earlier this week, Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the governor’s office did not apply any pressure toward UF and called into question some of the allegations.

“The report contains plenty of unsourced allegations and innuendo, but zero evidence that Governor DeSantis or anyone connected to the governor’s office has exerted or attempted to exert improper influence on UF,” the statement said. “This is because it did not happen. The task force stated clearly that they ‘did not fully investigate these reports,’ admitting that this is hearsay that they cannot back up with verifiable facts.”

The university said results of the investigation will be made public.

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