Damned Heretics

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More chicanery, this time from a Norwegian, no less

Reviewers didn’t catch that hundreds of subjects had the same birth date

It sounds unlikely, but a Norwegian hospital has accused a researcher of inventing 454 patients to confirm the claim of his October Lancet article on how commonly used painkillers reduce oral cancer risk.

The suspect Norwegian, Jon Sudbo, 44, is now on sick leave. Apparently he was caught by a woman who runs the data base from which he said he drew on for his data. Now a Commission will find out what happened, and presumably the Lancet has to explain why the reviewers didn’t catch it.

The data problems in the Lancet report were discovered by Camilla Stoltenberg of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who is responsible for the Cohort of Norway database from which Dr. Sudbo had said the data were drawn, according to a report in the journal Nature.

The initial problem as always was probably that no reviewer had access to the data or could check it. Now the co-signers are shattered that their trust was betrayed.

“We are still reeling from the shock,” said Dr. Leonard Zwelling, vice president for research at M. D. Anderson. “There is no worse feeling in the world” than for a researcher to learn that he has put his name to a paper with fabricated data, Dr. Zwelling said.

Another factor as Nicholas Wade points out today (Jan 19 Thu) is that a statistical study that large is unlikely to be duplicated, so Sudbo would have not have been caught by any failure of attempts at duplication which is the usual back stop guardian of scientific truth.

A special feature of epidemiological studies like Dr. Sudbo’s is that they involve large numbers of patients and are unlikely to be repeated by other laboratories. Replication is considered the most reliable test of scientific quality.

Still, the reviewers must be reviewed as the great question continues, how can such conmen be prevented from exploiting the basic layer of trust which enables scientific cooperation?

After all, they must have been rather inattentive if they did see the data, since according to an earlier report from Reuters “250 of about 900 supposed patients were listed with the same date of birth.”

The commission, due to report back by April 1, would also examine why none of Sudbo’s co-authors or reviewers spotted the errors before the article went to print.

Reuters’ story yesterday was Norway probes cancer doctor accused of faking data

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Norway probes cancer doctor accused of faking data

Wed Jan 18, 2006 5:06 PM GMT173

OSLO (Reuters) – Health authorities opened a probe of a Norwegian cancer researcher on Wednesday after his hospital accused him of falsifying data for an article published in a leading medical journal.

The investigation, ordered by the medical officer for the Oslo region, would cover cancer specialist Jon Sudbo and Oslo’s Radium Hospital where he worked. Sudbo, 44, is on sick leave and has not commented on the charges that he faked data.

“We welcome this decision,” Stein Vaaler, a hospital director, told Reuters of the investigation that will also look at whether patients suffered from Sudbo’s recommendations. “We think this is fair.”

The hospital, known as the Comprehensive Cancer Center, said at the weekend that Sudbo had admitted faking data for a study of mouth cancer published in October in the British journal the Lancet.

Norwegian health authorities can reprimand, sack or bar doctors from practicing medicine for violations that harm patients. In the worst cases, sanctions against institutions can include forced closure or fines.

In the Lancet article, Sudbo and co-authors said that commonly used painkillers can reduce the risks of mouth cancer in smokers but that long-term use could raise the chances of dying from heart disease.

The hospital said that he made up patients for the apparent review of 454 people with oral cancer. Sudbo’s motives for the alleged falsifications are unknown.

Separately, a commission set up by the Radium Hospital and led by Swedish expert Anders Eckbom began meeting on Wednesday to examine Sudbo’s report, his previous work and whether his recommendations had an impact on cancer treatment.

The commission, due to report back by April 1, would also examine why none of Sudbo’s co-authors or reviewers spotted the errors before the article went to print….

“We are still reeling from the shock,” said Dr. Leonard Zwelling, vice president for research at M. D. Anderson. “There is no worse feeling in the world” than for a researcher to learn that he has put his name to a paper with fabricated data, Dr. Zwelling said.

A special feature of epidemiological studies like Dr. Sudbo’s is that they involve large numbers of patients and are unlikely to be repeated by other laboratories. Replication is considered the most reliable test of scientific quality.

The data problems in the Lancet report were discovered by Camilla Stoltenberg of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who is responsible for the Cohort of Norway database from which Dr. Sudbo had said the data were drawn, according to a report in the journal Nature.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Nicholas Wade’s story today (Thu Jan 19) is Cancer Study Was made Up

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The New York Times

January 19, 2006

Cancer Study Was Made Up, Journal Says

By NICHOLAS WADE

A large study concluding that anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the risk of oral cancer was based on fabricated data, according to The Lancet, the prominent British medical journal that published the report last year.

The principal author was Jon Sudbo, a cancer researcher at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo. He had four co-authors at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and another at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.

In the Lancet paper, Dr. Sudbo said he received financing from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. The news agency Agence France-Presse said the amount was $10.5 million.

A spokeswoman for the institute said yesterday that she could not confirm it had provided the financing. She noted that $10 million was a minute slice of the agency’s budget.

Officials at the Norwegian Radium Hospital told The Lancet they had information that the data was manipulated, the journal’s editor, Richard Horton, wrote in its current issue.

Dr. Sudbo is away on sick leave, according to Agence France-Presse. His American co-authors declined to comment, but their institutions both said in statements that they were not involved in the Norwegian hospital’s investigation.

“We are still reeling from the shock,” said Dr. Leonard Zwelling, vice president for research at M. D. Anderson. “There is no worse feeling in the world” than for a researcher to learn that he has put his name to a paper with fabricated data, Dr. Zwelling said.

A special feature of epidemiological studies like Dr. Sudbo’s is that they involve large numbers of patients and are unlikely to be repeated by other laboratories. Replication is considered the most reliable test of scientific quality.

The data problems in the Lancet report were discovered by Camilla Stoltenberg of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who is responsible for the Cohort of Norway database from which Dr. Sudbo had said the data were drawn, according to a report in the journal Nature.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

One weapon is legislation to make such fraud a criminal offense, and the Norwegian government has promised to speed up such a law which was already on its way in Oslo.

See an earlier (Jan 16 Mon) Reuters filing Oslo promises crackdown after cancer cheat scandal

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Reuters

Print this article Close This Window

Oslo promises crackdown after cancer cheat scandal

Mon Jan 16, 2006 5:01 PM GMT

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway promised on Monday to speed up a new law that may bring jail terms for medical cheats after a hospital accused one of its cancer researchers of falsifying data published in a leading journal.

“There must be no doubt about the quality of our research,” Health Minister Sylvia Brustad told Norway’s NTB news agency. “So we are speeding up our draft law.”

The government would present the law to parliament later this year, earlier than planned, after experts have worked on a review since 2003.

The law would propose stricter rules for overseeing research and might make cheats liable to criminal charges that could bring jail terms. Under existing rules, cheats can in the worst case be sacked and banned from practicing medicine.

Officials said at the weekend that 44-year-old Jon Sudbo, a researcher at Oslo’s Radium Hospital, made up patients’ case histories for a study about oral cancer published by the British journal The Lancet in October.

The hospital said an independent commission would probe all his research. Sudbo is on a sick leave and has not been available for comment.

“They will start the work mid-week. Hopefully they will give us answers in one to two months,” said Stein Vaaler, a hospital director.

Among improbabilities in Sudbo’s research, 250 of about 900 supposed patients were listed with the same date of birth.

Last year, South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk was exposed for fabricating two studies claming he had cloned human embryos to provide stem cells.

NOT RETROACTIVE

Any new Norwegian law making it a criminal offence to falsify data could not apply to Sudbo. “A law would not have retroactive effect,” Deputy Health Minister Wegard Harsvik told Reuters.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said the report published in October would be retracted if Oslo supplied confirmation that it had been falsified.

The hospital’s Vaaler said a retraction would be made quickly if the researcher admitted in writing to inventing the data. “So far he has admitted falsifying data verbally,” he said.

“There are huge implications for the entire scientific community to make sure that it has the best safety checks in place to prevent fabrication and falsification of data,” Horton told Reuters.

The panel investigating Sudbo’s research would look at why errors were not spotted by a peer review.

Horton defended the current system of peer review but said the competitive nature of scientific research probably contributed in both the Norwegian and South Korean cases.

(additional reporting by Patricia Reaney in London)

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

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