By Margaret Munro CanWest News Service
American health authorities are more likely to blow the whistle on scientific and ethical misconduct involving Canadian researchers than government agencies in this country.
Last summer, U.S. authorities reprimanded the University of B.C. and its ethics boards for not clearly informing critically ill patients an experiment might hasten their death. Canadian authorities say they have “no records” of the problem.
Last April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a harsh public warning to an Ottawa doctor for not ensuring the safety of a four-year-old boy who died after being given a massive overdose of the experimental cancer drug in the Ottawa component of the trial. Again, Canada’s federal health authorities did not draw attention to the case.
And now U.S. authorities have issued a report on a case of scientific misconduct at the University of Alberta in which a researcher falsified his experiments and those of his colleagues. Canadian authorities have said nothing.
Canada’s lead medical research agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, says it strives to see research conducted “according to the highest ethical standards.” Health Canada makes similar claims. Both agencies have a policy of dealing with problems of misconduct and breaches that come to their attention in confidence.
The Americans, who are much more proactive about investigations and formal procedures that must be followed when breaches occur, have the authority to investigate Canadian research, such as the Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton projects, that receive funding from U.S. agencies.
U.S. officials say making the results of investigations public enables people and institutions to learn from mistakes. They also say it is important to publicly identify researchers who engage in scientific misconduct. They estimate some form of misconduct occurs in one in every 1,000 research projects.
“We think it is important to name them,” says Dr. Alan Price, director of investigative oversight at the U.S. health department’s Office of Research Integrity.
Price says a decision was made to name violators after it became apparent people who engage in scientific misconduct tend to move from university to university.
“These miscreants, particularly the full professors, were going from one institution to another and no one was telling the new institutions (about the history of misconduct),” says Price.