Medical research hit by 60 frauds

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 60 cases of scientific fraud have been detected in the past two years - putting patients at risk and under- mining public confidence in research, doctors reported yesterday.

The cases were found among research papers submitted to a dozen medical journals whose editors have joined a group committed to uncovering fraud. There are 200 medical journals published in Britain and the fraudulent papers detected are likely to be only a fraction of the total.

The editors of the British Medical Journal and The Lancet called for a national body to be established with powers to investigate fraud and impose sanctions against the perpetrators, on the lines of those that already exist in America and Scandinavia. They were backed by Michael Farthing, chairman of the Committee on Publication Ethics (Cope), which published the first guidelines aimed at preventing scientific research misconduct. The guidelines cover the conduct of research, its publication and relations with the media.

Dr Farthing, editor of the journal Gut, said no one knew the extent of scientific fraud but it appeared to be increasing. "The whole basis of science is that it has to be based on trust," he said. "At a meeting, attended by 70 editors, on fraud, our sense was that their experience was similar to ours." Cases cited in the 1999 Cope report, published yesterday, include examples of unethical treatment, failure to obtain consent and results being fabricated. Almost one-third involved a breach of ethics and one in five had already been published before. Duplicate publication can help to advance scientists' careers by making them appear more productive.

In one case, a GP submitted a study of the use of anti- bacterial and anti-fungal creams for the treatment of vitiligo, which causes white patches on the skin. There was no clinical justification for the treatment and it was done without controls or ethical approval. The GP was reported to the General Medical Council.

In another case, a research team that had used a radioactive marker injected into patients to help to diagnose a neurological disorder was suspected of fabricating the results. There was no evidence that the patients had consented to the treatment or that ethical approval had been obtained. A whistleblower who tried to challenge the research team was removed from a research committee on which he sat, which was chaired by one of the authors of the disputed study, and threatened with legal action.

Ricard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, said the peer review process for medical research was not adequate to weed out fraud and a national body was needed.