Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Research misconduct

The emperor is marching around buck naked

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 24 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e541
  1. John H Noble Jr, emeritus professor1
  1. 1SUNY/Buffalo, 508 Rio Grande Loop, Georgetown, TX, USA
  1. jhnoble{at}

Godlee’s report of widespread research misconduct is disturbing and, I believe, generalises to the US.1 2 It’s not just the fact that it is happening, but that it reflects a culture within which new researchers are socialised. Previous research indicates the motivators for dishonesty include a high pressure achievement oriented environment, where “if everybody else is doing it, it must be OK.”3

The problem also underscores how important are reanalysis and replication of reported research, a recent topic on the US Institutional Review Board Forum ( But, get this, “Ginny Barbour, a senior editor with the PLoS group of journals, said one third of authors could not find the original data to back up figures in scientific papers when these were questioned.” I wonder how many journal editors seek to discover and reject such authors. I wonder how meticulous the US Food and Drug Administration is in policing the input it receives in support of marketing approval for new drugs and medical devices.

These behaviours are beyond the reach of surveillance by institutional review boards and research ethics boards, and they indicate the need for a new end product quality control system.4 The simplifying assumptions about the efficacy of peer review and professional ethics and responsibility fail miserably when the emperor is discovered marching around buck naked.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e541


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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