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EDITIONS
 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 02:02 GMT
Research fraud plans 'toothless'
Laboratory worker
There are calls for a body to regulate research
Proposals designed to prevent scientists getting away with falsifying their research results lack the clout to make a difference, say journal editors.

There is evidence that a minority of researchers are prepared to make up or distort their findings in order to get them published, or to protect sponsorship from the pharmaceutical industry.

There have also been allegations of plagiarism, and failure to get proper consent before including patients results in research studies.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (Cope), which aims to stop bogus "discoveries" finding their way into print believes that a body needs to be set up to police the UK research community.

It is only a matter of time before Britain experiences another high-profile case of research misconduct

Dr Richard Smith, BMJ editor
The chairman of Cope, Professor Michael Farthing, said that at a recent meeting of groups representing drug companies and academic bodies, it was agreed that such a national body should be set up.

However, there is no mention of this in the proposals to combat research fraud drawn up afterwards by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Database

Instead, the Academy proposes the setting up of a database of allegations and outcomes, an advisory panel to help employers such as universities with expert help in investigating alleged fraud, all funded by the research community and the NHS.

Professor Farthing said he was concerned that the proposals would lack "commitment and authority", and that no time had been set for the implementation of the proposals.

He said: "Cope continues to be concerned about the apparent tardiness of British academia and others to give research and publication misconduct an appropriate priority rating."

Embarrassing questions

Dr Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, one of the UK's leading journals, welcomed the proposals, but added: "The Academy needs to find a way to oblige employers to cooperate with their panel and provide a place where anybody can go and have their problem dealt with responsibly.

"It is only a matter of time before Britain experiences another high-profile case of research misconduct.

"Questions will then be asked about what the scientific establishment has done to respond to a problem identified more than 20 years ago. The answers, unfortunately, will embarrass us all."

A spokesman for the Academy of Medical Sciences said: "The Academy's preliminary inquiries have indicated that there is a consensus amongst the stakeholders that the management of the problem must rest with the employers.

"This view has been reinforced by the many detailed codes of research practice that have been published during the past twelve months as leading funding bodies and agencies have sought to ensure that robust and effective guidelines for research governance are in place.

"The Academy's proposals, still only exploratory at this stage, have therefore focused on ways in which it could assist employers: through the maintenance of a database of allegations, the production of guidelines and practical help, and the assistance of expert scientific advisors."

See also:

09 Mar 02 | South Asian Debates
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