Letter fraud

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7004.523 (Published 26 August 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:523
  1. Naomi Craft
  1. Editorial registrar BMJ London WC1H 9JR

    Easy to commit, hard to detect

    Recently we published a letter from a Dr James Bird, consultant physician at St Mary's Hospital, London.1 Although the letter was signed and came on headed notepaper, we learnt that no such doctor has ever worked at St Mary's and his name is not listed in the Medical Directory or the Medical Register. We have therefore retracted the letter (p 573).

    Ironically Dr Bird's letter was written in response to an editorial by Richard Smith on academic integrity.2 The BMJs policy is that conflicts cannot be eradicated but should always be disclosed,3 4 and we now publish the source of funding for all research papers and require all authors of editorials and papers, all referees, and the authors of some letters to declare any conflict of interest. Dr Bird disputed the need for such declarations in scientific journals. He wrote: “Editors of journals have the responsibility to ensure that material that is published is soundly based, conducted, and interpreted; if it is, then the source of funding is immaterial. If editors have any doubts about any of these then they do not publish the paper; again, the source of funding is immaterial.”

    We do not agree. Papers do not divide neatly into good and bad: rather they form a spectrum from good to bad--with many clustering around the middle. And there is abundant evidence that conflict of interest …

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