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Psychiatrist admits plagiarism but denies dishonesty

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a398 (Published 19 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1394
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. 1London

    One of Britain’s best known psychiatrists, Raj Persaud, this week admitted several allegations of plagiarism before a General Medical Council panel in Manchester.

    Dr Persaud won fame through frequent appearances on ITV’s This Morning with Richard and Judy in the 1990s. He later became a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind programme. He also contributed articles and book reviews to the BMJ from 1999 until 2005, when allegations of plagiarism first surfaced.

    Two of the allegations against Dr Persaud concern articles submitted to the BMJ. A 2005 book review of The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram, by Thomas Blass, a professor at the University of Maryland, contained passages copied from the book under review (BMJ 2005;331:356 doi: 10.1136/bmj.331.7512.356). The BMJ later formally retracted Dr Persaud’s review (www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/331/7512/356/DC1).

    A further article containing passages from the same book was rejected by the BMJ in December 2005.

    Dr Persaud admitted to the GMC that both articles “contained passages plagiarised” from Professor Blass’s work. Professor Blass’s work was also reproduced without attribution by Dr Persaud in the March 2005 edition of Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry and in an article published in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) on 18 February 2005.

    Both of these earlier works had come to the attention of Professor Blass, whom Dr Persaud had previously interviewed on Radio 4’s All in the Mind. He initially complained directly to Dr Persaud about the TES article.

    The GMC’s counsel, Jeremy Donne QC, said that Dr Persaud had attempted to “exculpate himself” by blaming subeditors for removing text crediting Professor Blass. In an email to Professor Blass he had written: “When these columns are subedited a lot is often taken out and I don’t get to see it before it goes out.”

    In a later apology, however, the TES acknowledged that Dr Persaud had “copied” Professor Blass’s work. The article in Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry was also retracted by the publisher in September 2005. Allegations of plagiarism first surfaced publicly in the Guardian two months later.

    At that time Dr Persaud had written three books, had a monthly column in Cosmopolitan, and had recently been elected a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

    Dr Persaud admitted to the GMC this week that his book From the Edge of the Couch, published in 2003, contained passages plagiarised from four sources. Mr Donne told the hearing that Dr Persaud had approached Richard Bentall of Manchester University and received permission to quote an article in his book.

    “Having seen the passage Professor Bentall was astonished that a substantial portion of his paper had simply been copied into the book in what he believes was a deliberate act of plagiarism,” said Mr Donne.

    Dr Persaud admits that his actions were inappropriate and misleading but denies that they were dishonest or liable to bring the profession into disrepute.

    Dr Persaud resigned in December 2005 from an honorary post at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London but remains a consultant psychiatrist for the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust.

    Footnotes

    • Competing interest: The BMJ has submitted evidence to this inquiry.

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