Coping with scientific misconductBMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6586 (Published 20 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6586
All rapid responses
It is worrying to hear of the problems Wager describes. The difficulties in getting research institutions to take misconduct seriously cannot be good for science.
However, I think the situation may be even worse than that. Much of Wager's article is based on the assumption that an honest editor does his or her best to get to the bottom of misconduct cases. But what if in fact the editor is complicit in the misconduct?
While COPE undoubtedly does excellent work in supporting editors who want to do the right thing, they are not a regulatory body who can enforce good practice on editors who themselves indulge in misconduct.
An article by Karen Shashok recently posted on the EMWA website describes a case of editorial misconduct, and how COPE's response to this did not adequately address the situation. Shashok suggests (and is not the first to do so) that what is needed is an international body that can hold journal editors to account, and I completely agree with her.
Scientific publications are important in advancing knowledge. Surely they are too important to be trusted to editors who lack proper accountability for their actions.
Competing interests: I was the victim in the case of editorial misconduct in the article I described. As a completely separate competing interest, I have collaborated on research projects and co-authored papers with Liz Wager.
Thank you for your comment. I have also heard, anecdotally, of US investigations which were 'extremely thorough' and therefore very costly and have wondered if there wasn't a more cost-effective way of doing it. Especially when researchers are exonerated, the often lengthy process can be gruelling. Maybe this is the inevitable price of a thorough and fair investigation but my gut instinct (no data!) says it's not!
Competing interests: I am the article's author
Elizabeth Wager's article is full of important information and shows that it can be very difficult, even for a tenacious editor, to secure the investigation of suspected research misconduct. This problem is not confined to the UK but is prevalent in the US. At one time in the US there was little investigation or publication of the results of investigation once the offender or offenders had been dismissed from the institution, but this has improved. When I was working at a hospital and medical school on the eastern seabord of the United States there occurred a very serious incident of the results of clinical trials in patients with cancer being repeatedly and systematically misrepresented. The offenders were summarily dismissed but further investigation of the case was extensive, first by a committee appointed by the institution. Further investigation was carried out by a committee of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG). A committee of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducted its own investigation which led to the termination of research funding to the offenders. Finally the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carried out a prolonged and exceedingly thorough investigation, concentrating on the misuse of experimental drugs. Eventually a hearing in court was considered but did not occur. It certainly cannot be said that the misconduct was hushed up - far from it - but the lack of strict punitive action could be criticised.
Competing interests: No competing interests