Education And Debate

Investigating the previous studies of a fraudulent author

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7511.288 (Published 28 July 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:288
  1. Richard Smith, chief executive (richardswsmith@yahoo.co.uk)1
  1. 1 UnitedHealth Europe, London SW1P 1SB
  1. Correspondence to:
  • Accepted 13 July 2005

This year, the journal Nutrition retracted a study by R K Chandra, and questions have been raised about the integrity of the rest of his work. Who has the responsibility for investigating previous work and if necessary punishing the researcher and correcting the scientific record?

Introduction

In February of this year, Michael Meguid, the editor of Nutrition, retracted a paper by the Canadian researcher R K Chandra, that it had published in 2001.1 2 The paper claimed to be a randomised double blind placebo controlled trial showing that physiological amounts of vitamins and trace elements would improve cognitive function in elderly people.1 Meguid gave eight reasons for retracting the paper and said that Chandra had either ignored the reasons or failed to give an adequate response.2

Chandra's paper was submitted originally in 2000 to the BMJ, which had severe doubts about the paper: one reviewer said that the paper “had all the hallmarks of having been entirely invented.”3 The BMJ asked Chandra's employers—the Memorial University of Newfoundland—to investigate its anxieties about the study. The university held an inquiry but found no serious problem. The BMJ was unconvinced by this response and raised further questions about the study. In August 2002 the university answered that Chandra had taken unpaid leave for the first four months of 2002 and failed to respond to any of its inquiries, including a request for raw data. Then in August 2002 he resigned.

Meanwhile, the BMJ had notified Nutrition about its anxieties over the study. Unfortunately Nutrition had already published the study. Chandra must have sent the study to Nutrition as soon as the BMJ began questioning it. The BMJ also notified the Lancet, which had published a closely related study by Chandra in 1992.4 Serious doubts were then …

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