Intended for healthcare professionals


Commentary: Skilled forensic capacity needed to investigate allegations of research misconduct

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 28 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3977
  1. Iain Chalmers, coordinator 1,
  2. Andy Haines, dean emeritus2
  1. 1James Lind Initiative, Oxford OX2 7LG, UK
  2. 2London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  1. Correspondence to: I Chalmers IChalmers{at}

An editorial introduction to the series of BMJ articles about research fraud and the MMR scare ends by noting that the affair “raises important questions about . . . what can be done to prevent something like this happening again.”1 At least one of the answers to this question was identified a decade ago. Two years after a consensus conference on misconduct in biomedical research held in Edinburgh,2 a proposed blueprint for the prevention and investigation of research misconduct was published by authors representing several medical royal colleges and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine.3 4

One of its pivotal recommendations was the need to establish a rapid response process through which institutions could call on independent teams of trained external assessors, to investigate allegations of research misconduct.4 With the exception of one small private organisation, MedicoLegal Investigations,4 no other capacity yet exists within the UK.5 Meanwhile there continue to be scandalous and costly delays in investigating allegations and suspicions of research misconduct, and in identifying innocent as well as guilty researchers.

In 2004 the Sunday Times published an article by the journalist Brian Deer alleging misconduct by researchers at the Royal Free Hospital medical school in London.6 Six years earlier Andrew Wakefield and …

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