Fraud squad for scientists

June 30, 1995

The Royal College of Physicians is looking at the practicalities of setting up a fraud squad for British science. An interdisciplinary group is to put ideas into a consultative paper to go out in September.

The group was formed following pressure from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, and others including Stephen Lock, former editor of the British Medical Journal.

David London, college registrar, said: "We are calling together a group of representatives of interested bodies that will see how we can put together a central body that will be able to receive complaints, commission investigations but probably not do the investigations.

"The body would probably hand its decision on to the employing authority or to a statutory body which is responsible for the discipline concerned," he said.

"It's a very difficult issue because it involves handling matters that may be highly technical as well as issues of natural justice, such as protecting the person about whom the complaint is made and libel issues."

Professor London said that he wants the working group to include representatives from science, pharmaceuticals and general practice as well as a lawyer with interests in ethics and libel. He will also invite the Royal Society to get involved, although it has recently publicly dismissed scientific fraud as "minuscule" in incidence.

Dr Lock welcomed the move. A central body was the only way of amassing experience in dealing with fraud allegations, he said. It would ensure uniformity in dealing with cases and it could take over embarrassing cases, for example, where a famous researcher is implicated. It could also help in the prevention of fraud by having an educational role.

Dr Lock estimates that there are about 50 serious cases of scientific fraud in the United Kingdom each year. Medicine was an area of concern because of the money available for producing good comments about a product and because many trials occur in general practice, away from an academic or hospital surroundings.

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