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Should Science Fraudsters Go To Jail?

Amy Ellis Nutt, The Washington Post

This scientist nearly went to jail for making up data

Scientific integrity took another hit Thursday when an Australian researcher received a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to 17 fraud-related charges. The main counts against neuroscientist Bruce Murdoch were for an article heralding a breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. And the judge’s conclusions were damning.

There was no evidence, she declared, that Murdoch had even conducted the clinical trial on which his supposed findings were based.

Plus, Murdoch forged consent forms for study participants, one of whom was dead at the time the alleged took place.

Plus, Murdoch fraudulently accepted public and private research money for the bogus study, published in 2011 in the highly reputable European Journal of Neurology.

“Your research was such as to give false hope to Parkinson’s researchers and Parkinson’s sufferers,” said Magistrate Tina Privitera, who heard the case in Brisbane. Still to go to trial is Murdoch’s co-author, Caroline Barwood, who has also been charged with fraud.

Since 2000, the number of U.S. academic fraud cases in science has risen dramatically. Five years ago, the journal Nature tallied the number of retractions in the previous decade and revealed they had shot up 10-fold. About half of the retractions were based on researcher misconduct, not just errors, it noted.

The U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which investigates alleged misconduct involving National Institutes of Health funding, has been far busier of late. Between 2009 and 2011, the office identified three three cases with cause for action. Between 2012 and 2015, that number jumped to 36.