Time to face up to research misconduct

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7034.789 (Published 30 March 1996)
Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:789

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  1. Richard Smith
  1. Editor BMJ, London WCIH 9JR

    Britain and many other countries are failing to respond to evidence of misconduct.

    Every country that conducts scientific research experiences research misconduct. I can't support that statement with irrefutable evidence, but other countries that have looked for misconduct have found it.1 2 It would be strange if they did not find misconduct. Why should scientific research be the only human activity immune from crookery. Of the countries that conduct scientific research, only a minority—the United States, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Austria, and Australia—have a coherent system for tackling the problem. Other countries need a system for promoting scientific integrity, providing research into misconduct, and detecting, investigating and punishing misconduct when it does occur. We also need to study research misconduct, horrible as it might be, so that we can better understand its epidemiology.

    Research misconduct is back on the British agenda after yet another case last week where the General Medical Council struck off a general practitioner for forging the consent forms of patients entered into a research study sponsored by a drug company (p 798).3 Dr Geoffrey Fairhurst was far from being a marginal member of the profession: he was vice chairman of his local medical ethics committee. Dr Fairhurst was the 16th doctor to be found guilty of serious professional misconduct after referral by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry since the association began actively referring such cases in 1988.4 5 Other than those referred by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Association, the General Medical Council has found only one other doctor guilty of serious misconduct for research misconduct—Malcolm Pearce, the obstetrician and gynaecologist …

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