|The sins of science
Scientific frauds, like the MMR vaccine scandal, are not nearly rare enough
JOANNE RICHARD, Special to QMI Agency
First posted: Saturday, January 22, 2011 02:00 AM EST
Seems there's a whole lot of misconduct going on in the world of science. The latest scandal showed that research linking MMR vaccines with autism is a sham, and it's not alone.
An investigation reports that one in seven scientists know colleagues who fake scientific findings, according the University of Edinburgh, while nearly half know of colleagues who engage in questionable practices. Only 2% of researchers polled own up to unethical misconduct - that number is probably higher, investigators report in the journal PLoS One.
An Acadia Institute survey states 50% of faculty and 43% of graduate students have "direct knowledge" of scientific wrongdoing, including fraud, falsification and plagiarism, in their labs.
Falsifying findings have put Dr. Andrew Wakefield into the hall of shame. His criticism of the vaccine to fight measles, mumps and rubella literally caused a global health crisis when his studies were reported in the Lancet medical journal in 1998.
The journal fully retracted the published claims. A U.K. panel found Wakefield, of London's Royal Free Hospital, to be "dishonest," "unethical," "irresponsible" and "callous." Investigation by British journalist Brian Deer unearthed the damning evidence of financial and scientific misconduct.
Rule breakers rule - everything from data fabrication to falsification, plagiarism to fraud to embezzlement is on the roster of rotten scientific behaviour. It's a high-stakes game where pressure is frenzied to publish positive results.
Check out other famous faked scientific results that have left careers in ruins and reputations destroyed:
Prominent Montreal surgeon Roger Poisson falsified breast cancer data in a landmark study regarding lumpectomies versus mastectomies. He was stripped of his posts at Saint-Luc Hospital as chief of oncological surgery and as a professor of surgery at the University of Montreal.
Dr. William Summerlin coloured in black patches on the fur of white mice with permanent markers to prove his skin graft technique was a success. The dermatologist/medical researcher at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute carried out fraud while conducting research in transplantation immunology. He got caught when lab assistants noticed the spots could be removed with alcohol. He quit after the incident.
Dr. Andrew Friedman, a gifted surgeon and researcher and faker extraordinaire. His groundbreaking work, which was highly-respected and peer-reviewed, was published in top medical journals. A researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, he doctored data and made up patients involving hormonal treatment of gynecological conditions. Brought before a state hearing, Friedman confessed to making up information, was repentant, resigned and subsequently punished.
Considered a pioneering expert in stem cell research, South Korean veterinarian professor and researcher Woo-Suk Hwang was booted from Seoul National University for inventing data on stem cell research. His published research claimed he produced human embryonic stem cells by cloning. In 2006, he was "indicted on embezzlement and bioethics law violations linked to faked stem cell research." Hwang continues cloning efforts on pig embryos at his own research institute in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. His first claim to fame - cloning a dairy cow.
Dr. Scott Reuben pled guilty to medical misconduct - he faked dozens of medical research studies and allegedly accepted close to half a million dollars from drug companies to deliver research. Fabricated findings were published in medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, claiming the drug Celebrex helped reduce pain during post-surgical recovery. Problem is, no patients were studied! Reuben, a former member of Pfizer's speaker's bureau, concocted other study data on Bextra and Vioxx drugs too - more than 20 of his papers were pure fiction. An audit at Baystate Medical Centre in Massachusetts where Reuben worked resulted in his dismissal - it was discovered he had been concocting data for as many as 13 years.
Dr. Eric Poehlman fabricated data to win millions of dollars in grants. The once prominent nutrition researcher concocted research on menopause, aging and hormone supplements for more than a decade as a tenured faculty member at the University of Vermont. He obtained millions of dollars in federal grants with his fraudulent data. He denied charges for five years and even lied under oath but eventually pleaded guilty.
Evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser specialized in primate behavioural studies and was found guilty of unspecified scientific misconduct. Following a three-year internal investigation, Harvard confirmed misconduct linked to published papers, as well as unpublished studies into cognitive evolution. Although an award-winning researcher and author of more than 200 articles in high-profile research journals as well as four books, including Moral Minds and Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think, his notorious scientific fraud is his legacy.
Norwegian oncologist Jon Sudbo conducted research on cancer using anti-inflammatory drug - but it was all sloppy science. He deliberately falsified patient data in a Lancet study claiming that non-COX2-NSAIDS like ibuprofen minimized the risk of oral cancer in smokers. Two other papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Oncology also published his fictional findings. His medical license was revoked, and so too his doctorate from the University of Oslo.
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