Plans for tackling research fraud may not go far enoughBMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7275.1487 (Published 16 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1487
The UK government is considering giving its support to a national body to tackle misconduct in biomedical research. But members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which was set up three years ago by scientists, doctors, and the editors of medical journals to raise public awareness of research fraud, fear that the body's powers will not be strong enough.
The committee wants a national body to tackle research fraud similar to those operating in the United States and Scandinavia. The committee's latest report, published this week, expresses frustration at the lack of movement on the issue, despite support for the idea from the joint consensus conference on misconduct in biomedical research at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in October last year.
Most of the UK's leading medical organisations participated in the conference, which recommended that a meeting be convened between the three Royal Colleges of Physicians, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, and the General Medical Council to set up a national panel.
Professor George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians of London, said last week that all the interested parties would be meeting in early January to discuss the format and remit of the panel. He said that he had had informal talks with Sir John Pattison, head of NHS Research and Development, and other government representatives, all of whom supported the idea.
The college will be publishing its own document on the prevention of fraud and misconduct early next year. It will strongly recommend the establishment of a national body. “I do see it becoming a reality,” said Professor Alberti.
He expects the membership of the panel, which will be decided next year, to be drawn from a broad range of organisations, including industry and NHS Research and Development. “[The panel] will have an advisory role and act as a resource. It will help people set up their own investigations, but it will not be punitive,” he said.
Professor Michael Farthing, the committee's chairman and editor of the journal Gut, welcomed the plans, but questioned whether a body with only an advisory role would be powerful enough to tackle the issue.
He cited the case of Mr Anjan Banerjee of the Royal Halifax Infirmary, who was suspended by the GMC last week for publishing fraudulent data in the specialist journal Gut 10 years ago: “His work was subject to several institutional inquiries, none of which found anything. How do you ensure a transparent and independent inquiry? An advisory body will not solve that problem.”
More than 100 cases of research misconduct have been submitted to the committee so far, with evidence of misconduct in 80% of them. One in 10 had involved falsification of data.
In response to growing support the committee has adopted a formal constitution and will collaborate with the World Association of Medical Editors to extend its work beyond the United Kingdom.
How the national panel should be funded is not yet clear. But Professor Alberti suggested that all organisations participating in medical research and education could contribute.
Professor Farthing agreed but said: “Why can't it be paid for out of our taxes? We all pay for the police force. Why shouldn't we do something similar for research misconduct? It is another aspect of public health.” (See p 1485.)
COPE Report 2000 is available at www.publicationethics.org.uk/