Volte-face in radiologist case

Sheffield drops disciplinary action over conference submission and opts for review. Zoë Corbyn reports

March 4, 2010

The University of Sheffield has dropped disciplinary proceedings against an academic who took steps to publish her research findings without permission.

Instead, it is to launch an "independent review" of the matter, which will also look at the university's demands that she withdraw the results from the symposium in question.

The case involves Guirong Jiang, a research radiologist in Sheffield's Academic Unit of Bone Metabolism, who has worked at the institution for 13 years.

Dr Jiang submitted her findings to a forthcoming symposium of the European Calcified Tissue Society without the consent of her supervisor, Richard Eastell, the unit's head.

The university brought disciplinary charges against her, claiming that the submission was in breach of a 2007 contract it has with a pharmaceutical company, Sanofi-Aventis, to conduct studies relating to the osteoporosis treatment risedronate, which is sold as the drug Actonel. Sanofi-Aventis funds work in Dr Jiang's unit.

Sheffield added that Dr Jiang failed to follow "reasonable requests" to withdraw the submission.

The researcher said she believed her results, which date from 2002, should be published as they had not been reflected in the unit's previous output.

The findings add to the debate over what some scientists regard as an over-diagnosis of vertebral fractures, the indicator used to diagnose osteoporosis.

Dr Jiang decided to submit her research without permission after being informed that her contract would not be renewed when it comes to an end later this month.

The review will investigate the "circumstances and responses" surrounding the submission of the abstract and make recommendations on any action that should be taken.

Sheffield proposes that it should be led by Paul Moss, head of the School of Cancer Sciences at the University of Birmingham, and that two Sheffield academics who are not connected to Dr Jiang's research should also participate.

Sheffield declined to comment on the review, which it said was a "confidential matter".

However, Dr Jiang said she was unhappy with the scope of the inquiry as it would not consider other matters she had raised, including her impending redundancy.

The researcher added that the review should be held in public and that Sheffield had not explained why it had changed its approach.

She also said that she would prefer it if the disciplinary hearing went ahead as planned.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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