Medical research scandal could target someone you love

On 3 Mar 2011, we learned from Britain’s Daily Telegraph that “Millions of NHS patients have been treated with controversial drugs on the basis of "fraudulent research" by one of the world's leading anaesthetists,”:

He published dozens of papers "proving" their benefits and contradicting studies which suggested they could increase the risk of death in surgery and cause kidney failure, severe blood loss and heart failure.German medical authorities are scrutinising 92 of his key publications and a criminal investigation is under way into allegations that he forged documents, tested drugs on patients without their consent and fraudulently claimed payments for operations he had never performed.

[ … ]

Sources close to the investigation said that the editors would announce the formal retraction of 89 papers next month.Rhineland state prosecutors are investigating Mr Boldt over allegations that he forged the signatures of his alleged “co-authors” on his studies, conducted drugs trials without official approval and claimed money for operations that he never performed.

[ … ]

Dr Rupert Pearse, a senior lecturer in intensive care medicine at Barts and the London School of Medicine, and co-author of the British guidelines on fluid drugs, said last night: “…For me, it shakes the world I work in and makes me feel less confident in it, and if I were a member of the public I would feel the same.”

These cases are so common now, it might be worth taking a look at reasons that aren’t anyone’s direct fault:

– Today’s tsunami of information makes the offenses harder to track.  

– There are simply so many more people working in medicine and science today that people fail us there who would otherwise have failed us somewhere else.

All that said, there is far too much reliance on mythical “self-correction” in science today and not nearly enough on real-life prevention.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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