Inquiry into medical research papers

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Medical Correspondent

A senior gynaecologist, who was last week found guilty of scientific fraud and was struck off the medical register, is at the centre of a new inquiry into his previous research activities.

St George's Hospital Medical School in London yesterday confirmed that it is investigating 23 medical papers written or co-written by Malcolm Pearce, a former senior consultant. The papers appeared in leading journals, including the Lancet and the British Medical Journal.

News of the inquiry came as confidential report into the Pearce case by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reveals a damning catalogue of lax procedures in which college editors effectively agreed over a glass of champagne to publish one of Mr Pearce's papers in its journal. The research was later shown to be fraudulent. There is no suggestion that any of the editors were aware of this.

Dr Stephen Lock, a former editor of the BMJ said: "The time has come for Britain to abandon its lax approach to scientific fraud." He criticised the "amateurism" that allowed suspect research to be published.

Two papers with Malcolm Pearce as lead author appeared in the Royal College's own publication, the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, in August 1994. Mr Pearce was an editor of the Journal, and Professor Geoffrey Chamberlain, his department head at St George's, was its editor-in-chief and president of the college. He later resigned from both posts.

One paper described a pioneering operation to relocate an ectopic pregnancy, resulting in the birth of a healthy baby. The woman had in fact miscarried shortly after the operation. Three days elapsed between Mr Pearce's submission of the case details and its acceptance, and three months between acceptance and publication, the college report found. The average time gap for similar submissions is considerably longer.

The second paper carried results of a trial using a hormonal treatment for recurrent miscarriage. The trial never took place. The college report identifies several areas of concern.