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WBUR Debuts Special Report: Bad Chemistry

Multi-Platform, Data-Driven Investigative Report with Custom Microsite Examines Fallout from Annie Dookhan and the Massachusetts Drug Lab Crisis

In August 2012, Massachusetts officials closed Boston’s Hinton state drug laboratory because a then-obscure chemist Annie Dookhan allegedly “failed to follow testing protocols.” Dookhan has since been criminally charged with deliberately manipulating drug tests, compromising at least 34,000 court cases.

How could one state chemist cause the overturn of 286 convictions, cast another 34,000 drug cases in doubt and force the overhaul of the entire criminal justice system in Massachusetts? These are huge questions and in the search for answers, WBUR has launched a multi-platform, data-driven effort to explore the full story with a special report, “Bad Chemistry: Annie Dookhan and the Massachusetts Drug Lab Crisis.”

With convicted criminals now on the street and the crisis’ full scope unknown, WBUR has set out to follow the trail from Dookhan through the entire state criminal justice system. “Bad Chemistry” features WBUR’s independent analysis of the state police database capturing up to 58,070 drug tests linked to Dookhan, as well as interviews, videos, documents, an interactive timeline and more than 60 news stories aggregated since August 2012. A custom microsite was built at to house the entire “Bad Chemistry” report and serve as a comprehensive resource for all aspects of this story now and moving forward. As the story develops, the investigative series will be continually updated online at the site, as well as on WBUR’s radio programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

“We knew that this was a story we needed to pursue in depth,” said WBUR Digital Managing Editor Tiffany Campbell. “We wanted to report it in a way that would not just follow the latest twists and turns of Dookhan’s criminal trial, but would illuminate how one chemist could spark a chain reaction that stretched to all corners of the criminal justice system.”

Campbell and Executive Editor John Davidow assigned an investigative reporting team to dig deep into the story, including WBUR Senior Reporter Deb Becker, WBUR’s Open Court reporter Joe Spurr and Chris Amico, the developer behind Washington, D.C.’s Homicide Watch. The team has assembled exclusive video interviews and photos, secured confidential documents and created data-driven infographics analyzing the state police database of Dookhan’s drug tests. Taken together, this information raises troubling questions of public safety, civil liberty and government accountability.

“This project is just getting started, because the more questions we ask, the more threads there are to follow,” said Executive Editor John Davidow. “Not only do we aspire to provide a one-stop online destination for information on this case, but we hope to address what changes are necessary to keep this from ever happening again.”

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