An outstanding report by Judy Stone, “Why The U. of Minnesota Research Scandal Threatens Us All”, appeared in Forbes one year ago (May 27, 2015) . She details the misconduct of research and the scandalous cover-ups which still are going on in 2016 at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine . Last week, I briefly covered general aspects of this shocking situation in Minnesota (see: “Dishonesty in Scientific Research: Are the Punishments for Being Caught Sufficient to Deter More Cheating?” ). Now, we will take a closer look at Judy Stone’s masterful discussion about exactly how cheating in scientific research produces bad direct consequences for everyone.
Who is Judy Stone? She is a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases, and also has personal experience in research; she has authored several books, including one giving guidance for clinical research studies. Her interests focus on tropical diseases, advocating about ethical issues in medicine, and writing for the general public. Her vivid dispatches currently appear as contributions to Forbes. For her brief autobiography in 2012, see: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/welcome-to-molecules-to-medicine/ .
Trust in science, research, and scientists!
The great majority of scientists are honest! Unethical conduct by research scientists involves a small number of individuals, but this figure seems to be on the increase (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ). Dishonesty in science breaks the enormous trust in research and scientists, and, has negative effects on many unsuspecting people.
The general public continues to have very high trust in the research findings and published conclusions of professional scientists. That is good, except that they are deceived and unaware that some dishonest individuals have broken their trust.
All levels of science teachers and other educators have a high trust in whatever is published in science textbooks and references. The entire existence of fraudulent professionals is not accepted by most teachers because that realization undermines all education.
All types of research scientists have very limitless trust in the published findings of other scientists. When planning a new experiment, scientists typically assume previously published results are really true; they do this of necessity, since it is impractical to have to verify all earlier results from other labs by repeating those investigations.
People who are clinical patients of good doctors assume that their caregivers are fully cognizant of all new results about their treatments, and act only for their well-being. Most patients are not sufficiently aware that pharmaceutical companies are first and foremost businesses dedicated to pursuing profits. A whole spectrum of dishonesty in clinical and preclinical research studies is stimulated by “powerful financial incentives to do unethical things” ; that means researchers can “pressure vulnerable subjects to enroll in studies, fudge diagnoses to recruit otherwise ineligible subjects and keep subjects in studies even when they are doing poorly” .
Effects of dishonesty in research!
When ‘false facts’ are taught in classes to children or adults, what is learned or naively accepted as being true is actually wrong. If that falsity is used for some practical purpose, something will not work as expected. People working in many different jobs encounter this general problem.
Scientists believing some deceitful research report find that their own lab work gives negative or unexpected results. Upon redoing the reported experiments, they unexpectedly see that the published results cannot be repeated. This means that time and effort are wasted by scientists, lab workers, and administrators.
Think how much extra time and effort must be spent checking and rechecking everything for such huge and important activities as research probes sent into outer space, new prescription drugs finally approved for sale to patients with widespread diseases (e.g., arthritis, cancer, diabetes, mental health), design and construction of battery-powered self-driving automobiles, etc. Much of this time and money must be used to try to make certain that everything works as planned and nothing is based on false assumptions.
Any of us can be badly affected by inadequate testing of safety for new drugs!
Pharmaceutical drug trials certainly are very prominent for problems with ethics, corruption, and truth vs. falsity. Judy Stone explains vividly how clinical drug trials are misleading and deceitful if they are conducted fraudulently or actually are marketing studies; they need to be done “honestly and ethically” , so patients and their physicians can realistically have confidence in the intended effects. This admonition is not only directed to research scientists, but also extends to drug companies, to review bodies, and to government regulatory agencies (i.e., U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
The spectrum for research misconduct during development of new medical drugs is indeed very large. Any or many of us can be affected negatively by any dishonesty in the testing and evaluation process. When some professional researcher observes unethical behavior by other researchers they are obliged to report that and investigate what is going on ; in some cases, it is even necessary to become a whistleblower in order to prevent future patients from being harmed or killed (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” ).
Any falsification of research or corruption of clinical investigations testing new medical drugs affects a very large number of people! Unfortunately, recent history teaches us that we must always be suspicious about clinical trials since there are so many known instances of blatant deceit [1,3-4]. As Judy Stone says, “It is well known that industry-funded trials get more positive outcomes than those that are neutrally sponsored” ; why is that so? Any innocent patient (e.g., you!) can have bad outcomes due to this problem with ethics in some scientists and some companies. Lying, cheating, and fraud have no place in research!
 Stone, J., 2015. Why the Minnesota research scandal threatens us all. Forbes. Available on the internet at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2015/05/27/why-the-umn-research-scandal-hreatens-us-all/#4c1697e9751b .
 Stone, J., 2016. Denial. Why UMN needs a mental health ombudsman. Forbes. Available on the internet at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2016/05/14/denial-why-umn-needs-a-mental-health-ombudsman/#81c3d4748d3d .
 Elliott, C., 2015. The University of Minnesota’s medical research mess. New York Times, The Opinion Pages, May 26, 2015. Page A19. Available on the internet at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/opinion/the-university-of-minnesotas-medical-research-mess.html?_r=0 .
 Wilmshurst, P., 2004. Obstacles to honesty in medical research. HealthWatch – UK, Newsletter #52, 2003 HealthWatch – UK Award Lecture. Available on the internet at: http://healthwatch-uk.org/20-awards/award-lectures/65-2003-dr-peter-wilmshurst.html .
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