The latest news from the British Medical Journal is bad but hardly surprising. A survey of 2,700 doctors and scientists revealed 13 percent have witnessed colleagues altering or fabricating data during their research. That manipulation has included “inappropriately adjusting, excluding, altering or fabricating data.”
The BMJ further revealed that 6 percent of scientists and doctors think their own institutions are not properly investigating possible misconduct. In many cases, junior academics who might object are told to keep concerns to themselves if they wish to protect their careers, bullied into not publishing their findings, or had their contracts terminated when they spoke out.
Given that a 2001 BMJ study reported similar “misconduct,” the problem clearly isn’t going away on its own.
The findings were presented January 12 in the UK at a meeting cosponsored by the BMJ and by the International Committee on Publications Ethics (COPE). It included senior representatives from academia, government, funding agencies, and journals, who agreed individual researchers should have high ethical standards, but employing institutions have the prime responsibility of ensuring research conducted within their walls is honestly performed and reported.
Flagrant cases of fraud — such as the case of resveratrol researcher Dipak Das, who was exposed earlier this month after a University of Connecticut investigation revealed he had faked data on 145 different occasions over a seven year period — make the news headlines, but the delegates agreed that the greater problem is the “lesser offenses.” These include the selective publishing of research to avoid publishing disappointing results or the complete failure to publish any results from a study. Sadly, this is considered by many researchers today to be “business as usual.”
Why does so much of this happen? In today’s “publish or perish” culture, some researchers will do almost anything needed to get ahead. Another common reason is “checkbook research” in which data and conclusions are manipulated, massaged or omitted to please sponsors. Whatever the reason or reasons, junior academics who might object are advised to keep concerns to themselves if they wish to protect their careers, bullied into not publishing their findings, or fired for speaking out.
Liz Wager, PhD, a freelance writer and editor who serves as chair of COPE, concluded in her BMJ Blog that “problems in reporting research studies distort the scientific literature and provide an unreliable base for the development of systematic reviews and clinical practice guidelines. ” Furthermore, while “plagiarism may be a nasty symptom of a sick system, it has probably never killed anybody while unreliable guidelines and misguided research undoubtedly have.”
BMJ Editor in Chief Dr. Fiona Godlee believes, “UK science and medicine deserve better,” and “doing nothing is not an option.” Although she conceded the survey fails to provide a full estimate of how much research misconduct takes place in the UK, it proves there are a “substantial number of cases” and institutions are “failing to investigate adequately if at all.”
In their BMJ editorial, Dr. Richard Lehman of Oxford University, and Dr. Elizabeth Loder, the journal’s clinical epidemiology editor, added, “A large proportion of evidence from human trials is unreported and much of what is reported is done so inadequately. We are not dealing here with trial design, hidden bias, or problems of data analysis — we are talking simply about the absence of data. And this is no academic matter, because missing data about harm in trials can harm patients, and incomplete data about benefit can lead to futile costs to health systems. Moreover, researchers or others who deliberately conceal trial results have breached their ethical duty to trial participants.” The two called for an end to what they called the “culture of haphazard publication and incomplete data disclosure” and proposed more robust regulation and full access to the raw trial data, not just what ends up being published.
These are all excellent suggestions, especially the last. Those of us who review studies need to be able to look at raw data to judge the quality of a study and and the accuracy of its conclusions for ourselves. As public watchdogs, we too can help journals and researchers stay honest and accountable.
That said, it’s most interesting that the BMJ — a respected whistleblower on research misconduct for many years — itself chose to play a primary role in the smearing of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose controversial research connecting vaccinations and autism has proved highly troubling for the future profits of Big Pharm
Given that numerous independent researchers and doctors have found troubling links, high-quality, independent research is clearly needed. That, of course, is exactly what Dr. Wakefield recommended. Media accusations to the contrary, he never claimed to have established clear cause and effect. As he wrote in the Discussion section of the Lancet paper,”We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described” and the last paragraph of the study he adds, “We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine.”
In fact a substantial body of credible research published since 1998 — listed on Dr. Mercola’s website and available at medical libraries — suggests the validity of Dr. Wakefield’s concerns.
Yet another reason to mistrust the BMJ expose is its failure to disclose that since 2008 both BMJ and The Lancet have been in lucrative partnerships with Merck. This is clearly a serious conflict of interest and breach of ethics.
Truth cannot be suppressed so BMJ may well find itself in the embarrassing position of having boldly pointed one finger at disreputable researchers with three other fingers pointing back at itself.
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Tavare A. Institutions must do more to eliminate research misconduct, meeting hears. BMJ. 2012 Jan 16;344:e446. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e446. No abstract available.
Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent, BMJ 2011; 342:c7452 (Published 5 January 2011). http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/02/07/new-research-shows-link-between-mmr-vaccine-and-autism.aspx🖨️ Print post
Yeah, I didn’t know:1. that you could make soy milk yourself (duh – I fgeurid it was some big industrial process or something)2. that there even existed machines to make itI stumbled upon the machines as I was researching local organic soymilk sources and thought, holy cow! (or should that be holy soybeans!), this fits in with my “make it yerself” plans.qt – we’ll still be buying milk for making our own yogurt. Maybe one of these days I’ll try to find a recipe for making soy yogurt. Does anyone know if you can just substitute soy milk for cow’s milk in making yogurt????dumpsterdiva – I’ve read negative things about soy. And I’ve read negative things about cow’s milk. No matter how you slice it, the impact on the environment from raising cattle sustainably versus raising soy sustainably is still confusing as to which one comes out ahead. It all depends on the grower and the method of transport. I don’t know much about raw milk, but the idea gives me the willies. Maybe I read too much 18th century literature…
Dan Johnson says
Do you know of definitive research (cannot be re-interpreted to suite the vegetarian/vegan lobby) that settles the question that saturated fats from grass-fed/grass-finished animals are cardio.-beneficial rather than harmful?
Whether it’s from grass-fed/grass-finished animals, meat is going to increase your chances of getting cancer. Don’t take it from me, take it from “The National Cancer Institute”.
Joe M. says
The NCI is not a difinative reference for anything if it is anything it is a Cancer supporter to keep it simple. As with anything you have to look at overall diet, i forget the specifics but your overall diet is what`s important. Let me point this out, our diet has not changed in thousands of years but just going back to 1900 to keep it simple, our diet then and now was, meat , fish, poultry, fruit`s, vegie`s, but we did not have any of the health problems we have today, they started to occure after Antibiotics,Vaccines,other envirmental pollution of our water & food supply, keep in mind that the nutritional value of our food supply per unit has gone way down, add GMO`s and the above and you should get a picture different than whats referenced in the media,NCI etc. It is simple common sence you plott the nutritional value, antibiotics,vaccines, ev pollution in one direction and disease cancer, etc in another direction you see a corrolation as the value of our food goes down you see disease going up, if there was no corrolation disease would stay flat as it would not be related.
“Traditionally, the Maasai diet consisted of raw meat, raw milk, and raw blood from cattle. Note that the Maasai cattle are of the Zebu variety. In the summer of 1935 Dr. Weston A. Price visited the Maasai and reported that according to Dr. Anderson from the local government hospital in Kenya most tribes were disease-free. Many had not a single tooth attacked by dental caries nor a single malformed dental arch. In particular the Maasai had a very low 0.4% of bone caries. He attributed that to their diet consisting of (in order of volume) raw milk, raw blood, raw meat and some vegetables and fruits, although in many villages they do not eat any fruit or vegetables at all.” – Bonus Episode: A Maasai Story with Dickson Ole Gisa – https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/29-bonus-episode-maasai-story/
The important point to note here is that in this study 13% of those polled ADMITTED to having “witnessed” such practices. The real questions are:
1. What proportion witnessed but will NOT ADMIT having done so?
2. What proportion actually participated in such conduct?
3. What proportion have been “selective” with the evidence they find in their research so as not to conflict with their preconceived ideas, the current “consensus” in their field, or the likely wishes of those organizations they might expect funding from?
The fact is that our inherent characters have no connection to our intellectual potential, and it is our moral worth or character that will determine our intellectual honesty and empathy, without which science becomes more a danger than a boon to humanity. Those of high intelligence and low character are the most dangerous, and anyone who has observed a group of “academics” in action will, or should, recall the often barely concealed undercurrents of competition, jealousy, cliques, enforcement of orthodoxies etc.
What compounds this volatile stew is the blithe presumption of so many, probably most these days, of the academically trained that they constitute some sort of rational elite who are far above the emotions and motivations of the ordinary folk. This vanity is profound in my experience and the corporate identity it spawns is what makes the result of this study very likely to be a gross under-reporting.
“Science” has in many minds become a sort of cult, not unlike the medieval church: utterly convinced of its own superior rationality and utterly blind to the reality that it composed of mere mortals who are no different emotionally from their distant ancestors or their fellow humans.
“Bechamp or Pasteur?” by Ethel Douglas Hume is a perfect example of how our “orthodoxies” are established. Sadly, science and the media are now so much more powerful and so much more “for hire” than in the 19th Century, that the prognosis for humanity is not favorable.
You hit the nail squarely on the head my dear.
OLLIE JEFFERSON says
YOU DID YOUR STUDY, YOU GOT YOUR ANSWERS NOW WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR FINDINGS. PUT THEM AWAY ON THE TOP SHELF IN THE BACK. YOU NOW KNOW THAT THERE IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH HOW THE BIG BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRIES ARE OPERATING WITH A PROFIT OVER PEOPLE MENTALITY. ALL OF THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS ARE IN BED WITH EACH OTHER. BIG BUSINESSES LONG AND POWERFUL TENTACLES CAN AND DOES REACH EVERYWHERE. THERE IS NO SECRET THAT THEY ARE MOTIVATED BY GREED AND CORRUPTION IS A BADGE OF HONOR. I DON’T KNOW WHICH IS WORST A PERSON WHO IS AWARE OF AN INJUSTICE, OR DISHONEST ACTIVITIES AND STILL PARTICIPATE OR ONE WHO SEE YET REFUSE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH YOUR ABOVE STUDY. YOU POINTED OUT A LOT OF THE PROBLEMS BUT DID NOT MENTION NOT ONE FIX. THE PROBLEM IS TALKING HAS NEVER SOLVED, STOPPED OR CHANGED ANYTHING , THERE NEED TO BE ACTION. IF YOU ARE TRULY CONCERNED ABOUT THE “PROGNOSIS FOR HUMANITY” THEN YOU HAVE THE RIGHT PLATFORM TO MAKE A CHANGE. IT IS A SAD DAY WHEN EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY CAN BE BOUGHT. SAD INDEED