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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 00:07 GMT
Research misconduct warning
Lab work
There are concerns about regulation of medical research
The way research misconduct is dealt with in the UK is in serious need of reform, an expert has warned.

Professor Michael Farthing has called for an independent body to deal with the problem.

He said the medical profession cannot be left simply to conduct internal inquiries.

His comments come days before the General Medical Council considers the case of a leading scientist accused of research fraud.

This will do nothing to reassure the public that the medical profession is still fit to self-regulate

Professor Michael Farthing, Committee on Publication Ethics
Professor Tim Peters is the second scientist to appear before the GMC in connection with research that appeared over 10 years ago in the journal Gut.

Last November, the GMC found his co-author Dr Anjan Banerjee guilty of serious professional misconduct for falsifying scientific data in the paper about inflammatory bowel disease.

Dr Banerjee was suspended from the medical register for 12 months.

External whistleblower

Professor Farthing, chairman of the Committee on Publication Ethics, was concerned that the case was only brought to book by the intervention of an external whistleblower.

This was despite the alleged concerns of colleagues, other members of staff at King's College Hospital, London, and the findings of an internal inquiry, which were allegedly not in Dr Banerjee's favour.

Writing in Gut, Professor Farthing said: "This will do nothing to reassure the public that the medical profession is still fit to self-regulate."

Internal reviews, he says, are not independent enough to afford whistleblowers the protection they need.

Data in the Gut paper allegedly form part of Dr Banerjee's Master of Surgery thesis awarded by the University of London in 1991.

Another whistleblower apparently advised the university in writing that the data were fraudulent.

"[He] was subsequently instructed to withdraw the letter with warnings that this might damage future career prospects," writes Professor Farthing.

However, the GMC hearing did not tackle this, he says.

"The USA and many Scandinavian countries have had external agencies in place to deal with this for 10 years. Why is the UK lagging so far behind?"

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of health policy at the British Medical Association, said the organisation would support any measures that would help to eradicate the problem of research misconduct.

She said: "The BMA believes that it is likely that more than just one mechanism will be needed to deal effectively with research fraud, for instance, the introduction of ethics training for future researchers and the supervision by all institutions of the research currently being undertaken.

"Establishing an independent body by itself would not solve all the problems, but it may help if it forms part of an overall wider strategy."

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08 Sep 99 | Health
Clampdown on research fraud
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