UCSF doctor questions Taser studies

May 6, 2011 7:08:10 PM PDT
The debate about Tasers has intensified again. Two UCSF professors have published a paper that questions the validity of some studies done about the safety of Tasers and as ABC7 found out, it has to do with who pays the bill.

It's all about the research, or in some cases, research about the research. For that reason, UCSF cardiologist Byron Lee, M.D., made headlines on Friday.

"Research is done by humans and humans can be biased," said Lee.

And when that research looks at Tasers, it's controversial. Lee's study looks at other Taser studies funded by Taser International. He found results come out favorably 75 percent more often than other studies funded independently.

"We have seen this with the cigarette companies and now I think we're seeing it again with the Taser companies," said Lee.

Lee is a noted critic of Tasers who has testified against the company in court. Now with San Francisco considering Tasers, critics -- including the ACLU -- are saying the equivalent of "We told you so."

"What it really makes clear is that those who have been trying to convince San Francisco for a while now that Tasers are safe, that they're a good idea, they've been playing with a stacked deck," said Allen Hopper from the ACLU.

Predictably, the people at Taser International in Scottsdale, Arizona disagree with the study about their studies. The say that another study shows Tasers are safe 99.7 percent of the time. Steve Tuggle with Taser International said, "Most of our research goes through a conflict of interest committee run by the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. All of these studies are subject to independent peer review. Some of the studies have been funded by the United States Department of Justice."

Critics object mostly to how and when officers use Tasers. Recently, Peter McFarland of Marin County won a $1.9 million judgment after sheriff's deputies wrongfully tased him in his own living room, last summer. Critics fear that when police have Tasers, they will use them.

"They're more likely to shoot first with the Taser and try to ask questions later," said Hopper.

If at least one researcher has not done a study on that statement yet, be patient. With this issue as hot as it is, someone probably will.

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