Fraud in Medical Research

Already in September last year, Der Spiegel published an interview with Peter Wilmshurst, a British medical doctor and whistleblower who made fraudulent practices in medical research public:

In the course of the 66-year-old’s career, he conducted studies for pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, and unlike many of his colleagues, never hesitated to publish negative results. He’s been the subject of multiple cases of legal action and risked bankruptcy and his reputation to expose misconduct in the pharmaceutical industry.

A very interesting article that’s worth reading. Fact is, that companies who have a strong economic interest in the scientific process will have an impact on the quality of the research. It is, again and again, horrible to learn how far companies try to go – and often successfully do. While medical companies has always been an obvious target (and perpetrator), the problem runs deeper than the narrative of “Big Pharma”. 

There are many excellent researchers in the biomedical sciences, but biomedical fields of research also have a high prevalence of questionable research practices.1 Questionable research practices do not just cover fraud, but any practice that reduces the reliability of the research and thus replicability.

In fact, I believe that a large problem lies in lacking knowledge on research methodology and statistical analysis that leads to noisy data, p-hacked analyses and non-replicable findings. And I believe this to be especially true in fields where clinical practice, day-to-day business and research try to co-exist, namely medical research. Lacking methodological knowledge also gives a nurturing basis for fraud and bribery from external parties and sponsors.

  1. See the famous article by Ionnadis (2005) or John, Loewenstein & Prelec (2012).

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