Research fraud sparks changes at medical journal

A prominent anesthesiologist's guilty plea on healthcare fraud charges has sparked an overhaul of the publication guidelines used by at least one medical journal that has published his work. Scott Reuben, former chief of the acute pain clinic at Bay State Hospital in Springfield, Mass., is accused of falsifying research funded by Pfizer and other drug makers and publishing results of studies he never actually conducted.

Reuben was sentenced last week in federal court to six months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty on Feb. 22.

The case has sparked changes at the medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, where Reuben has been published repeatedly. Editor-in-Chief Steven Shafer tells The Hill that new guidelines mandate that at least two authors attest to having seen the original research data and having seen the data analysis. 

"Most cases of fraud involve a single author, who defrauds not only the editors, reviewers, and readers of the research but also his or her co-authors," Shafer said.

Shafer said the journal's editorial board also debated whether to ask for research notes and records when data fabrication is suspected, but decided that the institutions under whose authority the research is conducted should be the ones to ensure that it's done ethically.

"Journals have neither the responsibility, authority, nor resources to investigate the integrity of submitted or published research reports," he said. "We decided that the author, and the institution, must be responsible for the integrity of submitted and published research."

In all, Shafer and his colleagues at other medical journals have identified as fraudulent 21 articles and abstracts spanning 15 years.