Research fraud still common in the UK

Research fraud remains common in the UK, according to a survey that found more than one in 10 researchers and academic doctors have witnessed deliberate data manipulation.

The BMJ poll of 2,782 academics and clinicians found that 13% of scientists or doctors in the UK have seen colleagues changing or fabricating research data. In addition, 6% knew of potential misconduct that had not been investigated at their institution.

BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee said the findings showed there were a ‘substantial’ number of cases where institutions were failing to adequately investigate misconduct. In addition, researchers were often unsure how to report a colleague’s conduct. 

‘The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out,’ she said.

In a BMJ comment article, Dr Godlee and the Committee on Publication Ethics’s chairwoman Ms Elizabeth Wager asked why the UK has no plans to establish a regulator to tackle the issue.

They wrote: ‘This lack of concerted action is succoured by a prevailing view within the UK’s research establishment that we don’t have a problem.’

They said proposals to improve detection of misconduct must include the appointment of research integrity officers.

These would be similar to data protection guardians at NHS trusts, and would be able to listen to concerns over potential misconduct.

In 2001, a survey found that 6% of newly appointed hospital consultants admitted research misconduct and a further 13% were aware of possible breaches by colleagues.

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