Research row escalates

February 11, 2005

The vice-chancellor, the chairman and a psychiatry professor at Gothenburg University have been charged with "intentional or negligent misconduct" by Sweden's justice ombudsman after failing to follow a court order to make research material public.

If found guilty, they could face hefty fines or up to two years in prison.

The dispute centres on work by Christopher Gillberg, professor of psychiatry and a pioneer of the diagnosis of deficit in attention, motor function and perception, which is widely accepted in Sweden. He argues that children with behavioural or learning difficulties have congenital brain defects.

In June 2002, Eva Karfve, a sociologist at Lund University, and Leif Elinder, a paediatrician, accused Professor Gillberg of falsifying research results. He refused their request to examine his material, saying to do so would violate patient confidentiality.

When the university backed him, Ms Karfve and Dr Elinder took legal action.

In February 2003, a court of appeal ordered the university and Professor Gillberg to make the material public. He refused on ethical grounds.

In May last year, under pressure to implement the ruling, the university tried to seize the material but was thwarted when some of Professor Gillberg's research team shredded two decades' worth of state-funded research.

The justice ombudsman accused Gunnar Svedberg, the vice-chancellor, and Arne Wittlov, chairman of the university board, of not implementing the court's decision with sufficient vigour.

Kerstin Andre of the ombudsman's office said: "It would undermine the principle of openness if an authority could decide not to publicise documents just because an employee was against it."

Professor Svedberg said: "We have done our best to gain access to the material."

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