Editorials

A major failure of scientific governance

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h5694 (Published 28 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5694
  1. Richard Smith, former editor in chief,
  2. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief
  1. 1The BMJ, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to R Smith richardswsmith{at}yahoo.co.uk

Public inquiry is needed to learn from an egregious case

Today The BMJ retracts a 1989 paper by R K Chandra,1 2 a Canadian scientist who recently lost a libel case against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The broadcaster had accused him in television programmes of scientific fraud and financial deception.3 4 Chandra has had one other paper retracted,5 but it seems probable that many of his published studies are fraudulent. This long running and still unresolved saga raises serious questions about the governance of science and calls for a comprehensive response.

The BMJ started the process that led to the Canadian programmes when in 2000 it asked Chandra’s university, the Memorial University of Newfoundland, to investigate a study submitted to the journal that the editors thought might be fraudulent.3

Unknown to The BMJ editors, the university had already done an investigation in 1994-95, which concluded that “scientific misconduct had been committed by Dr Chandra.” The allegations had been made by the university’s professor of paediatrics. The investigating committee faced great difficulties. It noted that “no raw data (or files) of any kind were exhibited”; it could not “identify anyone who did or remembers a significant amount of the work”; and “the coauthors of the papers had little or very likely nothing to …

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