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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Research fraud faces clampdown
False research diverts funds from genuine projects, say experts
UK doctors are calling for a national body which can send in "hit squads" where researchers are suspected of fiddling their results.

While fraud is not thought to be widespread in Britain, it is feared that dozens of papers submitted for publication each year to medical journals contain bogus results.

Editors at journals can spot obvious examples, but some examples can still creep through.

Fraudulent research not only misleads doctors and the public - but also diverts funds away from more deserving scientific projects.

There has been a tendency in the past for people to hush things up

Professor Sir George Alberti, Royal College of Physicians
However, there is no set way of tackling institutions thought to be the source of fraudulent research.

At a one-day meeting in London on Monday, organised by the Committee for Publication Ethics (Cope) plans were set out for a nationwide group which could move in to investigate where question marks are raised over particular research.

Leading doctors stressed the urgency of the situation. Professor Sir George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "This is absolutely critical.

"At the moment the system is shambolic. There are no clear guidelines.

"There has been a tendency in the past for people to hush things up."

'Must have teeth'

He said that a national panel merely issuing advice would be not be much use - the new body should have the teeth to inspect research institutions, spot the offending researchers and deal with them.

Professor Alberti recounted one instance in which an accusation of research malpractice had taken more than 18 months to resolve. "We need a rapid response," he said.

Another Cope member, Professor Ian Kennedy, who chaired the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, said that it would probably be too late for the new body to simply react to research scandals as they emerged.

But he said that an inspection body would be "very complex, very difficult".

"It would be very unfortunate if an institution was treated in a way that was too heavy-handed."

The extent of fraud in the UK, of course, is unknown, although high-profile cases have come to light in recent years.

False research

One researcher, Dr Anjan Kumar Banerjee, falsified research into the gut disorder Crohn's disease.

He substituted his own urine for that of 12 research subjects - his fraudulent research was published in the leading journal Gut.

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

Professor Alberti praised the role of pharmaceutical firms in the regulation of research in which they have an interest.

Many firms conduct rigorous "spot-checks" of research data before scientific papers are allowed to go forward for publication.

However, not everyone is in favour of a system of inspection of researchers. One eminent researcher, Sir Richard Peto, has said that the extra regulation will amount to "harassment", and do more harm than good.

See also:

08 Sep 99 | Health
Clampdown on research fraud
23 Feb 01 | Health
Research misconduct warning
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