Studies retracted as scientist is found to have faked data

More bad science, or more specifically, money-driven, fraudulent science. Dr. Scott Reuben, a Massachusetts anesthesiologist working at the Springfield’s Baystate Medical Center, has been faking data for over a decade now in more than twenty published peer-reviewed papers (!) regarding the efficiency of a variety of pain-killers, including Pfizer’s and Merck’s.

[Springfield’s] hospital said a routine review in May found that some of Reuben’s research was not approved by an internal hospital review board. Further investigation found 21 papers published in anesthesiology journals between 1996 and 2008 in which Reuben made up some or all data. Hospital officials said Reuben did not admit to the fabrications. [source: Associated Press]

Apparently, Dr Rueben has succumbed to the very common indirect pressure to satisfy his financial sources, which included Pfizer:

Pfizer gave Reuben five research grants between 2002 and 2007. He also was a member of the company’s speakers bureau, giving talks about Pfizer drugs to colleagues.

Good thing is, most journals involved have retracted many of his studies (“Anesthesia & Analgesia” retracted 10 of Reuben’s studies, while “Anesthesiology” retracted three). As it happened, this case magnifies the all too important issue of the verification of studies’ findings by other independent laboratories before the wide acceptance and usage of the treatments in question. Unfortunately, Rueben’s findings already had a significant impact on the field:

“Doctors have been using (his) findings very widely,” said Dr. Steven Shafer, editor of Anesthesia and Analgesia. “His findings had a huge impact on the field.”

It is quite common in medical research to over-interpret some results in order to suit one’s hypothesis or satisfy the sponsors. It is slightly less common to twist some of the data or “omit” some data chunks in order to end up with a data set that, again, confirms one’s hypothesis. However, such large-scale manipulation and data fabrication is a rare occurrence, since the scientists involved risk their entire careers and reputations. In cases such as Rueben’s, credibility is forever lost, grant opportunities totally diminished, and getting a decent job becomes a very difficult task.

Hopefully, these gloomy consequences act as deterrents for the vast majority of medical researchers. Until more frauds are exposed, we can only hope that this is indeed the case…