Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Research Integrity

The fraud squad

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 28 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d4017
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK

The only UK body dedicated to promoting research integrity had its funding withdrawn last year. So what is the future for policing research fraud? Clare Dyer reports

Eric Poehlman holds a unique place in the annals of medical research. Once a highly regarded US researcher on obesity, metabolism, and ageing, he published hundreds of papers and garnered millions of dollars in grants over his 20 year career. In 2006 he became the first biomedical scientist in the US to go to jail for falsifying research data.1 Last year another US serial research fraudster, anaesthesiologist Scott Reuben, was jailed for conducting a series of fraudulent clinical trials of multimodal analgesia over six years.2

Prosecutors in Germany launched a criminal investigation this year after the editors of 16 medical journals retracted 88 articles by professor of anaesthetics Joachim Boldt because he failed to obtain ethical approval. He was stripped of his professorship, and the hospital where he was chief anaesthetist set up an investigating commission to review his work for data fabrication, falsification, or misrepresentation.3 4

In the United Kingdom, the Andrew Wakefield saga has highlighted the inadequacies in the country’s system for tackling research misconduct. Dr Wakefield, a reader in experimental gastroenterology at London’s Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, sparked a worldwide scare by suggesting a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. He was struck off the medical register in 2010, and only then did the Lancet, which published the research in 1998, retract the article. Although he was ousted from his job in 2001 for refusing to replicate his controversial study, the medical school did only a cursory investigation in 2004 when it was made aware of substantial concerns about his work, and it took a journalist, Brian Deer, to provide clear evidence that …

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