Report from the Investigation Commission appointed by Rikshospitalet – Radiumhospitalet mc and the University of Oslo January 18, 2006

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7.4 General remarks

As mentioned, the Commission has investigated all 60 coauthors. The Commission has reviewed the role of the individual coauthor to see if anyone may be suspected of having participated in the fabrication of research data or other gross breaches of good scientific practice. The Commission has found that there are no reasons to believe that other persons than Jon Sudbø, either intentionally or with gross negligence, have contributed to the fabrication of data or committed similar gross and serious breaches of good scientific practice.

For general deterrence reasons, among other things, the Commission has nevertheless found reason to point out certain criticizable circumstances on a more general basis. The Commission has difficulty in understanding that the breaches of good scientific practice which have been discovered, probably have been ongoing for such a comparatively long period without anyone discovering it. In Chapter 5, the Commission touched upon how this may have happened. Obviously, Jon Sudbø had the main responsibility for the articles of which he was the first author. He had full control over the raw data and the analyses made. Moreover, he had full control over who was a coauthor and who was not. By this, he was able to distribute the work such that the different contributors/coauthors did not have much access to the other contributors/coauthors’ actual tasks and contributions. By this distribution of tasks, the coauthors have been deceived by only having been involved to a rather restricted degree. At the same time, they were involved in such a way that they “nevertheless” accepted the authorship. Admittedly, several of them expressed doubt about whether they should take part as coauthor, and brought this up with Jon Sudbø and Albrecht Reith. Some even pointed out that the coauthor practice followed by Jon Sudbø was unacceptable, and made this clear to Jon Sudbø and Albrecht Reith. They were then told that this view was taken note of and that it should not happen again. No improvement took place, however. These authors were instead excluded from further collaboration.

In retrospect it is obvious that many persons ought to have become suspicious, reacted more strongly and investigated matters more closely. In this context, several persons have had occasion to notify the

management of the institution. There were also several persons in the medical community who were suspicious and skeptical to Jon Sudbø’s research and pointed this out to Jon Sudbø as well as Albrecht Reith and the management at the Radiumhospitalet. However, no proper routines for notification existed, and criticism against Jon Sudbø was brushed aside, explained away and petered out. In fact, several persons have stated to the Commission that they did not want to end up in a whistleblower position, and for that reason refrained from making further investigations. They maintain that ending up in the position of a whistleblower would be a great personal burden for them, in particular when a researcher who had a sort of status as the community’s “favorite son” was involved.

The reason that the Commission has not chosen to make a more detailed and thorough investigation of individual persons for less serious breaches of good scientific practice is also that the Commission understands that the practicing of authorship criteria is hardly unique to this case.

Several coauthors have been listed without their knowledge. Some of them became aware of such listings after publication and brought up this unacceptable practice with Jon Sudbø without any ensuing consequences. These circumstances could and should have been reported to the management, providing the management with an opportunity to take action on a more principal basis. A general characteristic seems to be that many of the coauthors did not have a very conscious relationship to the responsibility inherent in being listed as a coauthor of a scientific publication. In other words, they have taken this role and responsibility too lightly.

The media has devoted much attention to the fact that Jon Sudbø’s co-habitant, Wanja Kildal, and his brother, Asle Sudbø, were coauthors in several publications. For that reason the Commission will, in conclusion, remark that both of them collaborated with the Commission and contributed to illuminating the case. Having account to the extensive media focus, with its inherent suspicions directed against these two persons, the Commission finds reason to underline that the investigation has not disclosed any grounds for believing that any of them have been guilty in or contributed to scientific dishonesty.

8. Recommendations

8.1. The institutions

As accounted for in Chapter 5, the Commission is of the opinion that the breaches of good scientific practice which have been disclosed, can hardly be explained by a lack of research-ethical rules and principles. Nor can they be explained solely by reference to a single dishonest researcher. The interaction of a series of unfortunate circumstances has played a role in this case. On this background, the Commission has elected to emphasize the research communities, and in particular the research institution’s, joint responsibility to promote honest and ethically proper research of a good quality.

The Commission considers it to be outside its terms of reference to submit detailed suggestions as to how improvements of internal institutional control routines and the organization of research should be implemented. However, the Commission will point out some circumstances of a more general nature, which may prove effective and relatively simple to implement:

Institutional implementation of the prevailing set of rules

Research institutions must to a larger extent make all researchers and supervisors aware of the prevailing rules and the liability attached to to breaches of the rules. Ensuring that applicable statutes and rules and regulations are complied with and enforced is to a large degree an institutional system and management responsibility, where, in the Commission’s opinion, there is an evident potential for improvement. For example, the responsible research institution must have a satisfactory overview of and exercise satisfactory control over all research projects taking place at, or under the auspices of, such institution, without it necessarily being in conflict with academic freedom. The need for preventive work, and the research institutions’ responsibility for development of environments which take care of lifelong learning within the scope of research ethics and good research practice, is also emphasized in the preparatory works to the newly enacted Research Ethics Act (not yet in force). For example, the institutions could have been more explicit regarding whether and to what extent the Vancouver Rules are to be considered as binding for their employees. The Commission would also here refer to the simple but good advice to be found in Guidelines for the implementation of research projects related to medicine and health (Annex 5).

Handling of data and ethical evaluation of projects

As a minimum, the institutions should have routines to ensure that necessary permits for research involving people, human biological material, personal data information and/or animals are in place when research projects are initiated. In addition, the universities should require documentation that these are in place when PhD dissertations are submitted, for example.

Filing of research data

The research institutions should create systems taking care of the filing and storing of research data, as, i.a., the Research Council requires when funds are granted.
The contents of the supervisor role

The content of the supervisor role must be made more explicit, and a more precise responsibility should be imposed on the supervisor to ensure that research-ethical factors are understood.
Notification of errors and flaws

Better arrangements for notification of errors and flaws should also be implemented, for example by the creation of a researcher ombudsman, as suggested by some.

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