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Queensland Uni rocked by study scandal

Criminal investigators have been called in after the University of Queensland was forced to retract a major study on Parkinson’s disease because of a lack of evidence.

In a scandal that has rocked the sandstone university, one of the Group of Eight institutions, the study, Treatment of articulatory dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation,  – published in the European Journal of Neurology in 2011 – has been discredited.

In a statement, the University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Hoj said a preliminary investigation had found no data to support the study or its conclusions.

Professor Hoj said Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) had been called in to investigate the matter, and the journal had agreed to retract the paper.

The lead author of the paper, renowned speech disorder expert Professor Bruce Murdoch, has resigned since the allegations first came to light.

In the paper, he and his fellow authors claimed to have developed a technique using a coil emitting magnetic impulses held over the head of patients to achieve significant improvements in speech impairment.

But an internal university investigation ordered by Professor Hoj failed to find any evidence that the study, including the use of the technique, had ever taken place.

In a statement, the UQ Vice Chancellor said that, “as a result of its investigation to date, UQ has asked the journal that published the paper to retract it on the grounds that no primary data can be located, and no evidence has been found that the study described in the article was conducted”.

Underlining the seriousness of the scandal, Professor Hoj said the University had “informed the Crime and Misconduct Commission of the allegations, and will receive further advice from the CMC once it has received the inquiry panel’s final report”.

He said a $20,000 grant from a non-government organisation, awarded for the study, had been returned “due to our concerns it had been allocated on the basis of information from the discredited paper.”

Professor Hoj said having the paper retracted by the journal was an important step in ensuring the integrity of future scientific inquiry.

“By having the paper retracted, the University enables the global scientific community to learn that the research reported in the paper has no place in the body of scientific knowledge, and so cannot be used as a basis for further research,” he said.

The editor of the journal, Professor Tony Schapira, told the Brisbane Times that, through his actions, Professor Murdoch had “let everyone down”.

“We condemn the actions of scientists who seek to deceive the scientific community,” Professor Schapira, from University College London, said.

“The community expects, and should receive, the highest standards of honesty and ethical conduct.”

He said the journal had numerous checks in place to ensure papers submitted for publication were legitimate, including peer review and author statements.

“But in the end we remain dependent upon the integrity of submitting authors,” he said.

Adrian Rollins

    

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