Almost five years ago two outsiders approached an editor suggesting that a large series of papers from a particular researcher, including some published in high profile journals, might be fraudulent. Those contacting the editor thought it possible that the patients described in the studies had never existed at all. Round about the same time a few papers from this author were circulating in the journal’s peer review system. The editor asked an outside consultant epidemiologist and a statistical adviser to review both published papers and the papers in our system. The epidemiologist rapidly produced a report suggesting that many of the studies may have been fraudulent. The statistician began his work and, and after a while the author was asked to produce his original data. These data took a very long time to arrive, and they eventually arrived in a large box and written in pencil. These data were entered in the computer, but this proved a very time consuming and expensive process. The statistician, who had many other things to consider, got bogged down. Eventually a few months later the statistician produced a report on a particular paper, arguing very strongly that the data were probably fraudulent. The author resides abroad and seems to be the head of the institution in which he works. Because there was no formally appointed head of institution the editor wrote to him asking for a response and said that if none was provided, he would write to the national body. If this body cannot produce a response, then the editor will consider publishing a piece explaining the doubts about the 30 or so studies, most of which have appeared in prestigious journals on both sides of the Atlantic. The editor feels that he has been desperately slow, but is this what he should now be doing?
There has to be an investigation and it needs to be by a national body as the author is head of the institution.
The author replied that it’s “ex-colonials complaining about the downtrodden.” A national body has been asked to investigate. Three national bodies have now declined to investigate. The journal is currently considering publishing extensive details of the case.