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January 27, 2012
British Medical Journal Reveals That Academics Admit Data Falsification

Just days after the nutrition science world was rocked by allegations that a famed veteran resveratrol researcher fabricated data in 26 articles over seven years, a British Medical Journal survey reveals the practice is disturbingly widespread.

The survey of 2700 doctors and scientists found one in seven (13%) had, "witnessed colleagues intentionally altering or fabricating data during their research or for the purposes of publication". Those are only the doctors that admitted the findings. Critics suggest the actual percentage may be higher than 30%.

That manipulation included, "inappropriately adjusting, excluding, altering, or fabricating data".

Many respondents said they were aware of possible misconduct within their own institution that had not been investigated sufficiently.

"Not all scientific misconduct is these gross violations like falsifications, plagiarism and fabrication," said Raymond De Vries, an associate professor of medical education and a member of the Bioethics Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

"A lot of us aren't making up data and stealing data," he said. However, he believes that intense competition within the sciences is having a negative effect on researchers.

The researchers then sell out to the highest bidders if it will mean further funding and grants to continue research initiative.

Since the 1960s, the FDA has had the authority to disqualify or remove from FDA-regulated trials any clinical investigators who have "repeatedly or deliberately" ignored regulations designed to protect human research participants or who have repeatedly or deliberately submitted false information to the agency or the sponsor of their research. But this process often took years to complete and to this day, the ability for the FDA to disqualify and clinical investigator appears to be extremely biased based on that investor's ties to the pharmaceutical industry, something the FDA denies.

Deserve Better

"...science and medicine deserve better. Doing nothing is not an option," said Dr. Fiona Godlee, BMJ editor in chief.

"While our survey can't provide a true estimate of how much research misconduct there is...it does show that there is a substantial number of cases and that...institutions are failing to investigate adequately, if at all."

"The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out."

Committee on Public Ethics (COPE) chair, Dr. Elizabeth Wager, added: "This survey chimes with our experience from COPE where we see many cases of institutions not cooperating with journals and failing to investigate research misconduct properly."

BMJ noted the survey mirrored one conducted in 2001 that found similar levels of fabrication awareness.

Dr. Godlee and Dr. Wager issued a joint BMJ editorial recently that stated: "There are enough known or emerging cases to suggest that the UK's apparent shortage of publicly investigated examples has more to do with a closed, competitive, and fearful academic culture than with Britain's researchers being uniquely honest."

Many papers showing that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) reduced the risk of oral cancer, turned out to be completely false. Databases of study participants were fabricated, with many people sharing the same birth date. An example was the author of one study, Dr. Jon Sudbo, of the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo, Norway, who confessed to faking data for mouth-cancer studies published in 2004 and 2005.

More and more evidence is suggesting that medical journals are increasingly having to retract reports due to fabricated, erroneous or misleading data from Doctors and Scientists. Although fraud is clearly on the rise in Drug studies which serve the pharmaceutical industry, they are also increasing in the natural health industry.

Resveratrol Research Scandal

Dr. Dipak Das, a longtime researcher of the red wine antioxidant, resveratrol, was accused this month by his former employer, the University of Connecticut, of fabricating data on at least 145 occasions, in 26 research papers published in 11 journals over seven years.

The University had taken part in a three-year investigation before going public this month with its allegations that Dr. Das enagaged in systematic alteration of a type of data called Western Blot images which plot data - usually by Photoshop manipulation on his computer.

Those allegations are refuted on the grounds of a racist conspiracy by Dr. Das, but aside from a statement from his lawyer, the Doctor has remained largely silent on the affair as he recovers from a heart complaint in India.

Professor Lindsay Brown, professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Southern Queensland, was at a Free Radical Society conference in Kolcatta, India, where Dr. Das spoke two weeks ago on January 13 about Western Blots before being struck down by a stroke and hospitalised.

"This is the end of his career. He will be remembered for this scientific fraud and for little else," Professor Brown told The Australian newspaper.

Commenting on the website Retraction Watch , someone known as Mallika observed: "I am a grad student at UCHC. I did know a couple of people in Dr. Das's lab and interacted with them outside the lab. I was always surprised at how rapidly they seemed to produce data and got tons of publications where we struggle to get our experiments and papers out."


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