After a randomised controlled trial from a single author had been published, a letter was received in which the correspondent suggested that the original trial might be fraudulent. Firstly, the writer claimed that it was highly unlikely that just one author could perform a prospective, randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial, especially in a small district hospital. The correspondent was also worried that there was no mention of other standard treatments. Advice was sought from a statistician and a gastroenterologist, both of whom raised serious doubts about the paper. The editor asked the chief executive of the hospital to investigate. Initially, the medical director of the hospital wrote to say that it would be impossible for them to investigate unless the journal was willing to pay for the investigation. The editor replied, saying that he thought this absurd, on the grounds that if someone makes a serious complaint to the police, they don’t expect to be asked to pay for an investigation. The medical director eventually agreed with this and arranged for an experienced and independent researcher to examine the case. It emerged that the author had already been suspended for clinical reasons and that a university professor had been asked to look at the research when it was first published. An experienced statistician, he found no serious problems. Nor did the independent researcher find any serious problems. No further action has therefore been taken, but are there any conclusions to be drawn?
An attempt should be made to find who else had worked on the paper. A sole author rarely does all of the work, but yet has complete intellectual ownership of the data, although it is not impossible to be a single author.
This is a good example of why lists of contributors should be published, but this will not be pursued further in this case.