Assuring research integrity in the wake of Wakefield

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d2 (Published 18 January 2011)
Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2

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  1. Douglas J Opel, acting assistant professor1,
  2. Douglas S Diekema, professor1,
  3. Edgar K Marcuse, professor2
  1. 1Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Seattle, WA 98101, USA
  2. 2Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, WA 98105, USA
  1. djopel{at}u.washington.edu

Not just a bad apple, but a defective barrel?

In a grove of trees in the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, is a statue in memory of Albert Einstein. On it are engraved three of his sayings. One reads: “The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognised to be true.”

Science is our best way of knowing. When work presented as science is shown to be corrupt, it not only discredits that work and its authors, but it also discredits science. The series of linked articles by Brian Deer illustrate many of the ways that science can be corrupted.1 2 3 Above all, Deer shows that the conventional biomedical research mechanisms intended to assure research integrity completely failed.

Unfortunately, we have been here before. Investigators involved with the 1932 US Public Health Service Tuskegee Syphilis Study deceitfully enrolled subjects with latent syphilis and denied them available treatment for 40 years in order to study the natural course of the disease.4 As part of a 1963 study to determine the body’s ability to reject foreign cells, patients at the Brooklyn Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital were injected with live cancer cells without their knowledge and without oversight from the institution’s research committee.5 From 1944 to 1974, the US government conducted several radiation experiments, some of which involved the use of …

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