UK researcher sentenced to three months' jail for faking data

April 19, 2013 by Odile Gotts & Reema Rattan, The Conversation
Clinical trials. Credit: Esther/Flickr

A British scientist convicted of scientific fraud last month for falsifying research data has been sentenced to three months jail. Steven Eaton is the first person to serve time under the UK's Good Laboratory Practice Regulations, 1999.

Eaton had tampered with data from pre-clinical trials of an anti-cancer drug while working at the now-closed Edinburgh branch of US pharmaceutical company Aptuit.

Handing down his sentence, Sheriff Michael O'Grady said if the fraud had not been discovered, Eaton could have "caused unquestionable harm."

The case began in 2009, when Eaton's employer, Aptuit, noticed irregularities in his data while conducting quality control procedures. The pharmaceutical company notified the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which conducted an investigation into Eaton's work.

It found Eaton had been falsifying results of experiments to make them appear successful from as early as 2003.

Bill Madden, medical lawyer and adjunct fellow at the University of Western Sydney said he wasn't aware of legislation like the one Eaton was convicted under in Australia but that there were several avenues for dealing with professional misconduct.

"Such conduct could be grounds for termination of employment and that monies fraudulently obtained would have to be paid back," he explained.

"It may, in some circumstances, be possible to sue a researcher if a person suffered a loss as a result of reliance on a misrepresentation or false misleading conduct.

"In Australia, we have the various health care complaints commissions, which may have a role to play in the event of by health practitioners… even now there are some draft amendments to improve their capacity to act proactively," Madden said.

Ivan Oransky is clinical assistant professor at New York University and co-author of the blog Retraction Watch, which collates notices of retractions and scientific fraud. Oransky said it was unusual to see researchers jailed for professional misconduct.

"In the past five years, the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has found more than 40 researchers guilty of misconduct, but of them, only Poehlman served any prison time, and other than that Van Parijs had the closest thing to jail time," he pointed out.

Obesity and ageing researcher Eric T. Poehlman was sentenced to a year and a day for falsifying data on a grant application. And Luk Van Parijs faced six months of home detention and 400 hours of community service for fraud in research papers.

Associate Professor Ethics and Law at University of Queensland, Malcolm Parker said similar cases in Australia fall under the jurisdiction of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) or under the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC).

"It's both a self-regulatory thing and also, because [the code] is issued by the NHMRC and the ARC and they are the two significant funders of research in Australia, if someone contravenes provisions of that particular code then the most significant sanction there would be foregoing any research funding."

Parker said it was reasonable to have criminal sanctions in cases where scientific fraud could lead to harm.

Madden noted the most memorable case of similar fraud by an Australian doctor involved a drug that was alleged to cause birth defects.

William McBride had received plaudits and prestige for raising the alarm about thalidomide causing birth defects in the 1960s, but in 1981 he manipulated data to show another drug, Debendox, did the same.

His co-authors' complaints about the manipulated data were ignored and McBride was a witness for claimants in the multiple lawsuits that followed.

He was found to have committed scientific fraud in a subsequent inquiry and was struck off the medical register in 1993. McBride was reinstated to the register five years later.

Explore further: Study: Men more likely than women to commit scientific fraud

Related Stories

Study: Men more likely than women to commit scientific fraud

January 22, 2013

Male scientists are far more likely to commit fraud than females and the fraud occurs across the career spectrum, from trainees to senior faculty. The analysis of professional misconduct was co-led by a researcher at Albert ...

Facts in scientific drug literature may not be, study finds

May 30, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- 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 ...

US charges 91 in wave of health fraud cases

September 8, 2011

US authorities have charged 91 people over some $295 million in alleged fraud schemes related to Medicare, the government-run health program for seniors, the Justice Department said.

Scientists resolve to crack down on fraud

December 10, 2008

Public confidence in the honesty of scientists is being harmed by a small minority of researchers who behave badly, a conference heard last week. European research organisations agreed to work more closely to tackle the problem ...

Recommended for you

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

February 17, 2018

Musee national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' ...

Using Twitter to discover how language changes

February 16, 2018

Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, have studied more than 200 million Twitter messages to try and unravel the mystery of how language evolves and spreads.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 21, 2013
There are the other British scientist-cheaters from Univ of Sussex at

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.