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Research misconduct revisited

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 29 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2006
  1. Michael Fitzpatrick, general practitioner, Hackney, London
  1. fitz{at}

What have we learnt about scientific misconduct? Michael Fitzpatrick reviews a two part documentary that puts the Andrew Wakefield vaccine debacle in a broader context

Because scientific research relies on trust, and misconduct is rare, mechanisms for detecting and dealing with it tend to be cumbersome and inefficient. In a two part Radio 4 documentary Adam Rutherford examines the controversy surrounding Andrew Wakefield, in the context of scientific scandals from the Piltdown man hoax of 1912 to the furore over the sacking of the Harvard animal behaviour researcher Marc Hauser in 2010.

Rutherford examines the key roles of the relevant institutions and journals in two recent cases of scientific misconduct that were resolved briskly and efficiently. In the case of the Korean biotechnology researcher Hwang Woo-suk, the revelation that his claims for the therapeutic value of human embryonic stem cells published in Science in 2005 were based on fabricated data led to his prompt dismissal from his academic post at the Seoul National University (BMJ 2006;332:7, doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7532.7). When it was revealed that the South African oncologist Werner Bezwoda’s claims for the spectacular …

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