Not one of the four working papers for the 1999 Edinburgh Consensus Conference1 cited any reference before 1990. In part, this might reflect the difficulty of literature searches for earlier years; in part, constraints on the contribution's length and purpose; in part, the priorities in the documents to stress the importance of a subject neglected in many anciens regimes, and particularly in Britain.Yet surely such neglect also implied that nothing could be learnt from history - that times past could be ignored because little had happened. A similar neglect in the literature on research fraud has been geographical, with some authors failing to cite events in other parts of the world. A major and excellent book2 on the Baltimore case, for example, fails to cite any development in Europe, whereas a simple literature search would have disclosed major cases of research fraud and farsighted initiatives in some countries.
Nevertheless, an emphasis on a rounded history of any subject is important, not merely in its own right but because it contains important lessons. To ignore others' contributions is to diminish a subject as well as the authors. The thoughtful books by Medawar (1979),3 Broad and Wade (1982),4 and Kohn (1986);5 the comprehensive reports from the Association of American Medical Colleges (1982),6 the Institute of Medicine (1982),7 and the Association of American Universities (1988);8 as well as the incisive articles by Majerus (1982),9 Relman (1983),10 and Maddox (1987),11 all testify to the activity on the research fraud front before the 1990s, which had often anticipated the discussions as well as the solutions proposed "anew" at Edinburgh and other forums. In 1999 the British General Medical Council, for instance, made the ludicrous statement that, compared with the well-established pattern of research misconduct in the USA, it had not had "strong evidence of such a problem" in Britain.12 A mere glance at the second edition of this book (1996) would have shown 14 instances in the public domain, many dealt with by the GMC itself, let alone the more anecdotal suggestions of other cases.
So history has as an important role in this subject as in many others (and ironically for this topic in at least one country - Denmark - its committee on scientific dishonesty would classify the failure to acknowledge previous contributions at the least as a transgression of scientific etiquette). This said, however, here I will restrict my account largely to the period from 1974 to 1990, and to examples from biomedicine. To be sure, there were earlier cases (discussed in major books on the subject,3'4 and concern about the existence of fraud was voiced in eras and by people as diverse as 1664 with Robert Boyle (who cited "philosophicall robbery" [plagiarism] as a prime reason for creating the Royal Society's journal) and 1934 with Dorothy L Sayers (whose detective story Gaudy Night hinges on a case of fraud13). There are also other disciplines in which fraud has occurred: anthropology with Piltdown Man, for example (probably just a gentle hoax), or psychology (Sir Cyril Burt's much disputed work on intelligence quotients).
One immediate concern is when does journalism cease and history begin? Obviously nobody would be as draconian as Chairman Mao, who, when asked about the main effects of the French revolution, replied that it was too early to say. Most historians, however, would maintain that history cannot really begin until the important documents are in the public domain, often 30 years after the event. Even so, this objection has not stopped historians from writing the history of yesterday, with excellent accounts of the beginnings of HIV/AIDS, for example. So here I shall use the Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt's definition of history: "What will interest future generations", taking 1974 as a watershed and continuing mostly only until 1990. The account will be imperfect. It is not comprehensive, nor indeed nearly as full as in the previous two editions of this book (although it will use several of the passages in it from my own and other articles). Instead I will use some of the classic cases to brush pivotal points into the perspective as it appears at the beginning of this new millennium. If this account seems unduly acerbic, it is because of my personal involvement with a seemingly unmovable scene for over 21 years.
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