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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cheating All The Way To Success

Original posting, January 2006.

It seems to be coming more common - fabrication of science ‘facts’. Cancer study patients 'made up' now - allegedly. Beginning to sound like drugs in high-level competitive sport. The rewards are so great that cheating is the way to get success over your peers.

Dr Jon Sudbo

This illustrates the damage that can be done by 'falsifying' results. Cheating. Not just to science itself, but the confidence of those who rely on it: cancer patients. It is cynicism in the extreme and it demonstrates a complete absence of integrity.

Professional or moral

   Aspirin was among the drugs studied. A cancer expert invented - allegedly - patients for a study which concluded taking common painkillers could protect against oral cancer. Dr. Sudbo reportedly made up patients and case histories for the study published in highly-respected Lancet medical journal last October. Dr Sudbo has not commented publicly on the claims, but a spokeswoman for Oslo's Norwegian Radium Hospital, where he works, said he had admitted falsifying data. The revelation comes just days after work published in the journal Science by South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk was revealed as fabricated. Hospital spokeswoman, Trine Lind said: "We are shocked. This is the worst thing that could happen in a research institution like ours." Stein Vaaler, director of external relations at the hospital, added:

"He published an article in The Lancet in October last year whose data is totally false, actually totally fabricated. His database had been completely fabricated on his computer."

   Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet reported that of the 908 people in Sudbo's study, 250 shared the same birthday.

Clearly, not the sharpest tool in the toolbox.
Or is the arrogance so great, shared only by the ego,
that they imagine they’d get away with it? Staggering.

   The hospital has set up a commission to investigate why Dr Sudbo falsified data and how his material passed a review by other experts. Good question. As to the "why", who really cares? I don't. The fact remains that he did as alleged and "admitted falsifying data". But, how deep is the pit? The panel will also examine (more carefully) previous articles by Dr Sudbo, including two in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Radium Hospital has halted Dr Sudbo's research at the department of Medical Oncology and Radiotherapy.

Hospital chiefs are now discussing whether he can continue treating patients. That should take all of 1 second. Or less. 

   Torpedoed his own future. If, of course, it is true. How about suspension? Co-operation is always useful. The Lancet study was entitled "non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the risk of oral cancer." It concluded that long-term use of the drugs could help reduce chances of oral cancer, including smokers, but could also bring higher risks of death from heart disease. Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said he would be speaking to the co-authors of the study to seek their permission to retract the paper. Surely, if the paper is fabricated it must be withdrawn until any valid data can be verified. It’s unsafe to have it in circulation. Future references will be based on false information. Citation of the paper will invalidate any later work. He described the fabrication of data as a "terrible personal tragedy" for Dr Sudbo. However, he denied that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the process of peer-reviewing contributions to scientific journals.

"The peer-review process is good at picking up poorly designed studies, but it is not designed to pick up fabricated research," he said. "Just as in society you cannot always prevent crime, in science you cannot always prevent fabrication."