Abdulla, Sara. "UK Fraud Verdict Prompts Moves on Ethics..." Nature 375 (15 June 1995), p.
London. Attempts by the British scientific research establishment to prevent scientific fraud were
given new urgency last week when the General Medical Council struck off the medical register a
consultant, Malcolm Pearce, who had been found guilty of publishing two fraudulent papers in
the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) is drafting a comprehensive document on good research
practice, to be released next year, that will cover the topics of scientific fraud and
Martin Kemp, head of research policy development at MRC, says that "there is scope for
laboratories to do more internal screening." The MRC is planning a clear sanctions package,
coupled with rigid procedures for inquiring into scientific fraud destined to safeguard
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is expected to announce this week plans to
set up an independent body to regular medical research. According to its registrar, David London,
the college would like to see the creation of a body able to commission inquiries and receive
complaints, similar to those that already operate in Scandinavia. "Where there is crime, one
needs a degree of policing," says London.
Pearce, a consultant obstetrician at St. George's Hospital in London, was found guilty of 12
charges of professional misconduct - including two of scientific fraud - over two papers
published in August 1994.
In the first paper, co-authored with his head of department, Geoffrey Chamberlain, who resigned
last week as president of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pearce claimed that he
had carried out the world's first successful transplantation of an ectopic pregnancy.
The second paper contained an entirely fabricated report on 191 women suffering recurrent
miscarriage. When questioned, Pearce later claimed none of the records of these included in his
study could be found.
Issuing it verdict, the GMC, which regulates medical practice in the United Kingdom,
condemned Pearce's "deliberate inclusion of false or misleading data in medical research" as
dishonest and intolerable. The council described as "incalculable" the consequences for public
confidence in the integrity of research.
In an effort to restore public confidence, the GMC emphasized the need to devise and operate
effective safeguards, especially in the area of "gift authorship' - the practice whereby senior
academics add their names to research papers with which they have had little direct involvement.
The council suggests that "all individuals named in a research paper must have made an
intellectual contribution and be able to verify the raw data."
Stephen Lock, a former editor of the _British Medical Journal_ who is an expert on the study of
scientific fraud, describes the Pearce case as "a tragedy waiting to happen." He was impressed,
however, by the swift and efficient manner in which the case - which last only eight months from
beginning to end - was handled.
Lock, who advises the RCP on dealing with fraud cases, admits that medical research will
inevitably produce a small percentage of "bad apples." But he add that "peer review cannot - and
can't be expected to - detect these," especially as "the whistleblower usually suffers more than
the miscreant." Hew also supports calls for gift authorship to cease, comparing the practice to
"saying that you helped Shakespeare write Hamlet because you lent him a pencil."