Scientific fraud squad call

March 17, 1995

The drug industry is calling for independent investigation into allegations of scientific fraud. Claims that medical and scientific research need policing were made by ex-editor of the British Medical Journal, Stephen Lock, on the BBC Horizon programme this week.

But nobody is prepared to take the first step, says Frank Wells, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. "There should be an independent mechanism whereby cases can be investigated independently," he said. Members of such a body would include all research funders.

Since 1988 the association has referred 15 cases of alleged fraud by doctors doing contract research for the drug industry to the General Medical Council. All the doctors were struck off. But the GMC can only investigate misconduct among practising doctors.

Now the Medical Research Council is drafting regulations for dealing with fraud allegations, after a meeting acknowledged that incidents of fraud are very small in number but must be dealt with. The council said that the regulations would protect the accused and the whistleblower.

"It would be entirely appropriate for there to be an overall regulatory body," said the council.

David Sharp, deputy editor of medical journal The Lancet, suggests a system along the lines of Denmark's Commission of Scientific Dishonesty which has dealt with 21 allegations over the past two years.

Mr Sharp said: "Co-authors should take their responsibilities seriously. Team fraud hardly exists. It is usually just one of the authors who is a fraudster."

But Nicholas Wright, director of clinical research at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said that the responsibility should lie with institutions, which should devise protocols that protect both parties: "It's far better dealt with in-house. But we have to have a mechanism."

Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said parliament should look at what kind of body would be appropriate: "We can't do it without government involvement," he said.

The Royal Society would not be an appropriate investigator, according to Peter Lachmann, biological secretary at the Royal Society. Speaking on Horizon, he said that the incidence of fraud was minuscule.

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