Spokane Journal of Business

Researchers look at extent of missteps in drug studies

Pharmaceutical papers are retracted often due to scientific misconduct

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A growing concern with fraud and misconduct in published drug studies has led researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Pharmacoeconomic Research to investigate the extent and reasons for retractions in the research.

"We were surprised to find the proportion of retractions due to scientific misconduct in the drug literature is higher than in general biomedical literature," says Simon Pickard, associate professor of pharmacy practice and senior author of a study published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.

Nearly three-quarters of the retracted drug studies were attributed to scientific misconduct, he says, "which includes data falsification or fabrication, questionable veracity, unethical author conduct, or plagiarism. While these studies comprise a small percentage of the overall literature, health care professionals may rely on this evidence to make treatment recommendations."

These studies can affect the treatment of thousands of patients, since scientific publications often are printed months in advance. There is an average lag in time of 39 months between the original publication and a retraction notice, Pickard says.

"Once a health care professional changes treatment options, it's not easy to reverse," says Jennifer Samp, a fellow in Pickard's research group and lead author of the study. "Staying current with new findings in scientific literature is a priority for health care practitioners—especially pharmacists—and it's important for them to know when a study has been retracted, especially those with manipulated data."

The UIC team found that a considerable number of the retracted papers were attributable to two authors, one based in Japan and the other in Germany.

Little attention was paid to the implications of scientific publication retractions until a 1998 review documented 235 instances from 1966 to 1997, with 37 percent of the retractions being due to scientific misconduct.

Since the 1998 study, more interest has been given to retracted studies. In 2009, the Committee on Publication Ethics released the first set of guidelines to editors on issuing retractions.

"These guidelines should help to reduce the extent and impact of scientific misconduct," Pickard says. "Ironically, greater detection may give the impression that fraudulent science is on the rise, when it is actually being mitigated by these policies."

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