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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Data Fabrication - Scientific Misconduct

Author(s): D Saxena, P Kumar

Vol. 31, No. 3 (2006-07 - 2006-09)

Writing research publications and getting them published in the journals of repute is the desire of any scientist. The motivation for it may vary from contributing to human welfare to the recognition and respect from peers, promotion in job, seeing ones name in the print etc. How far one can go in this matter and resort to fabricating the data leading to “scientific misconduct”? Our present communication deals with this issue and is in reference to the editorial published in “British Medical Journal” (BMJ) on the investigations of allegations of scientific misconduct1. Dr Ram B Singh a private practitioner from Moradabad (UP) published a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on the effects of dietary intervention to prevent further heart attacks in susceptible patients2 in 1992 in BMJ. One of its key findings was that a year of a low fat, fiber rich diet almost halved the risk of death from all causes, This study later became a “citation classic,” (cited 225 times at the time of writing). It modified even the guidelines and author went on to publish many papers on the similar subject in other journals. He submitted articles to BMJ once again where referee suspected data fabrication and asked the editors to investigate not only the script submitted for the publication but also the one published earlier2. Dr. Singh became the focus of a concerted, but informal, international investigation into suspicions of scientific misconduct and data fabrication3. In absence of the suitable justification from the author, BMJ searched a legitimate authority to investigate and adjudicate on its concerns. The journal office approached ICMR, NHRC and MCI without any success. Now BMJ decided to publish an article documenting its efforts’ and concluded that the “the bigger shame lies with the scientific community that lacks means to investigate these international scandals and has to leave it to individual journal. The journal like BMJ carries such an international reputation that any thing published in them becomes almost a biblical truth. Therefore, journal cannot be absolved from its responsibility. Further BMJ till date has failed to retract this article. While in a similar case the journal “Nutrition” retracted the article and author too resigned from his job before the disciplinary action could be initiated4. Dr Sing has expressed the inability to provide the raw data because termites have eaten it. He also accuses the journal and referee of professional jealousy/ rivalry and racial bias. Even if a trace of it is true it needs to be investigated by an independent agency.

This controversy has evoked variety of response. Some have proposed that may be its time to have an international medical research commission with punitive powers (through UN/ WHO) to regulate worldwide research. Its first step should be to reduce the number of medical journals to manageable levels and secondly to prioritize areas of research to maximize the use of current world resources to improve the quality of human life. Some have shown concern over how the author managed to get ‘research collaboration’ from the network of international scholars and have warned the scientists across the globe to be careful with whom they associate with, in the mad rush to see their name in print6. Yet, another response dwells on the punishments that can be given to the fraudulent miscreants? May be banishment from science forever, confiscation of research funds/ resources for some period, expulsion from an institution with the risk of being hired elsewhere given impeccable credentials that these powerful miscreants manage to have7?

The idea of this communication is to bring out the fact that similar frauds(?) can be committed with journal like ours. We neither have the expertise nor resources to deal with such situations. It is high time that we should evolve some system to suspect and detect this possibility. Needless to say that it will put additional responsibility on the editors and the referee. In fact another article8 in the same issue of BMJ details the various statistical techniques which when applied on the raw data can detect such data fabrications to a large extent.


  1. Editorial Investigating allegations of scientific misconduct BMJ 2005; 331: 245-246.
  2. Singh RB, Rastogi SS, Verma R, Laxmi B, Singh R, Ghosh S, Niaz MA. Randomized controlled trial of cardio-protective diet in patients with recent acute myocardial infarction: results of one year follow up. BMJ 1992; 304: 1015-9
  3. Suspected research fraud: difficulties of getting at the truth Caroline White, freelance medical journalist BMJ 2005; 331: 245-246
  4. Smith Richard. Investigating the previous studies of a fraudulent author. BMJ 2005;331: 288-291
  5. Rapid Responses to: Editorials Time for international research regulatory body Dev Srivastava, SHO Prince Charles Hospital, CF47 9DT
  6. Rapid Responses to: Editorials Scientific misconductsuspicion and action V Raman Kutty HAP Trivandrum.
  7. Rapid response to Editor Sentencing for scientific fraud is punishment enough Cathy Popadiuk, University of Toronto, M5S lAl
  8. Sanaa Al-Marzouki, Stephen Evans, Tom Marshall, Ian Roberts. Are these data real? Statistical methods for the detection of data fabrication in clinical trials. BMJ 2005; 331:267-270.

D Saxena and P Kumar
Department of Community Medicine,
Government Medical College, Surat 395001

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