Intended for healthcare professionals


Panel needed to combat research fraud

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 06 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1222
  1. Bryan Christie
  1. Edinburgh

    A national panel is needed in Britain to provide advice and assistance on dealing with the problem of misconduct in biomedical research, a consensus conference has concluded.

    The conference called for a meeting to be held between the General Medical Council, the three royal colleges of physicians, and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine to determine the precise role of the proposed new body.

    The two day conference, held at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, heard that Britain is 20 years behind countries such as the United States, Sweden, and Denmark in addressing the issue.

    A series of high profile cases in Britain, including that of Dr Malcolm Pearce, who falsely claimed in 1995 to have carried out the first ever relocation of an ectopic pregnancy, has intensified the need to develop better mechanisms for dealing with the problem.

    The covert nature of research misconduct means that no one knows with any certainty how widespread the problem is, but the conference was provided with some worrying findings.

    A survey carried out among medical students found that 36% said that they would be prepared to cheat in exams, falsify patient information, plagiarise other people's work, or forge signatures.

    The conference was warned, however, that heavy handed attempts to tackle this sort of problem could end up stifling research and would result in the creation of an even bigger problem. It concluded that the best answer lies in trying to prevent the problem occurring in the first place, rather than trying to police it once fraud, dishonesty, or deception has taken place. Prevention could be achieved by improving the conduct of research through better training, education, and supervision.

    At the same time, the consensus statement said that all allegations of research misconduct should be investigated “firmly, fairly and expeditiously,” and better support should be provided for whistleblowers.

    The conference was supported by most of the leading medical organisations in the United Kingdom, and the chairman of the organising committee, Professor Walter Nimmo, said that it was the first time the issue had been examined in such detail in an open meeting.

    He said that the final outcome provides an authoritative view on how the issue can be taken forward.

    The consensus statement is available at