Research is essential to advance medical knowledge and ultimately improve patient care. All doctors in training should be taught research techniques, have an opportunity to spend time in research under supervision and be able to interpret published data. Fraud impedes the advancement of both medicine and patient care (BMJ 2000; 321:1429).
Recent cases have come before the General Medical Council. It is planned to set up a national panel to address this issue but some perceive the advisory nature of the panel as a weakness. The Committee on Publications Ethics (COPE) set up three years ago, has already had over 100 cases submitted to it (BMJ 2000; 321:1487).
Why do individuals falsify data or even communicate results ambiguously to disguise weakness in the research? There is enormous pressure to publish to gain career advancement, greater personal or institutional prestige, or just further funding. In the United States, 20% of applicants for gastroenterology fellowships and 7% of those for emergency medicine residency programmes are said to have misrepresented publications (Ann Int Med1993; 123:38- 41, Ann Emerg 1996; 27:327-330). Those who have been involved in research, whether Christian or not, will know the temptation, so 'casting stones' is not appropriate. 'If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves...' (John 8:7, 1 John 1:8).
As Christians, we must stand for integrity in every aspect of medicine not just in research. Those in positions of influence in institutions, training and research must set an example but also be supportive. The creation of a 'cut throat' atmosphere in which failure is unacceptable, sets a bad example. Good role models introduce their trainees to the concept of a search for Truth rather than a Nobel Prize. They encourage the concept of research that is valuable whether the results are positive or negative. A manufactured, dramatic finding may bring temporary success but if the foundations of the research are not honest, like any house built on sand - it will eventually fall (Matthew 7:24-27). Ultimately only research conducted with scrupulous integrity is worthwhile.