A randomised investigation of journal responses to academic and journalist enquiry about possible scientific misconduct

Mark J Bolland (Corresponding Author), Alison Avenell, Greg D Gamble, Stephen Buranyi, Andrew Grey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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OBJECTIVE: We investigated whether responses about possible scientific misconduct from journals to journalists would differ in speed, usefulness, and tone from responses to academics. Twelve journals that published 23 clinical trials about which concerns had been previously raised were randomly assigned to enquiries by a journalist or academics. Emails were sent every 3 weeks to the journal editor. We recorded the time for the journal to respond, and two investigators independently assessed the usefulness and tone of the journal responses.

RESULTS: 10/12 journals responded: 3 after one email, 5 after two emails, and 2 after three emails (median time from first email to response: 21 days; no difference in response times to journalist or academics, P = 0.25). Of the 10 responses, 8 indicated the journal was investigating, 5 had a positive tone, 4 a neutral tone, and 1 a negative tone. Five of the enquiries by the academics produced information of limited use and 1 no useful information, whereas none of the 6 journalist enquiries produced useful information (P = 0.015). None of the 10 responses was considered very useful. In conclusion, journal responses to a journalist were less useful than those to academics in understanding the status or outcomes of journal investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number521
Number of pages5
JournalBMC Research Notes
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

No specific funding was received for this study. MB receives salary support from the Health Research Council of New Zealand. The Health Services Research Unit is funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates. These funders had no role in the study design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.


  • Journal Article
  • misconduct
  • retraction
  • research fraud


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