Sheffield was 'reasonable' in telling researcher to pull conference paper

Radiologist lacked permission from manager or funder to submit her findings. Zoë Corbyn reports

April 15, 2010

It was "reasonable" of managers to order a University of Sheffield researcher to withdraw a conference submission made without their permission, a review has found.

Guirong Jiang, a research radiologist in Sheffield's Academic Unit of Bone Metabolism, submitted her findings to the forthcoming symposium of the European Calcified Tissue Society without the permission of Richard Eastell, the unit's head, or Sanofi-Aventis, a pharmaceutical company that funds some of the unit's work.

She said she believed that her results, which date from 2002, had to be published because they had not been reflected in the unit's previous output.

However, the researcher, who has worked at Sheffield for 13 years, was told she had breached a contract the unit has with Sanofi-Aventis to conduct studies relating to the osteoporosis treatment risedronate, which is sold as the drug Actonel.

Disciplinary charges were brought against her, but they were later dropped in favour of a review led by Paul Moss, head of the School of Cancer Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

The review reported last month, and its findings, which have been seen by Times Higher Education, vindicate the university. It rules that both Professor Eastell and Peter Croucher, head of the department of human metabolism, acted reasonably in asking Dr Jiang to withdraw her conference submission.

It also says that the university was right to pursue disciplinary action against her and finds "no evidence" that Professor Eastell discouraged or prevented Dr Jiang from publishing her work.

Dr Jiang - who was made redundant at the end of last month - said that the outcome of the review was "expected", given what she claimed was its narrow scope. She added that she was concerned that her findings would now never see the light of day.

Sheffield said that Dr Jiang would continue to have access to scientific data, "which she may use to progress and publish her research", but the scholar argued that this was not "realistic".

She feared that she would face legal action if she published the data now, she said.

She had offered to stay on at Sheffield in an unsalaried position to enable her to publish her results, but, she said, the university had not responded to the proposal.

She accused Sheffield of preventing the publication of her findings, which she said would "allow debate about the interpretation of drug trials".

Dr Jiang added that she had written to Professor Eastell seeking the necessary permissions to submit her findings for journal publication and to publish the results both as a book and online.

"The university says it is not seeking to prevent publication, but it states that I cannot publish without seeking (Professor Eastell's) permission, the permission of unknown third parties, and by following contracts which I am not allowed to see," she writes.

Professor Eastell said he was considering Dr Jiang's request.

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