November 17, 2011

Breaking news: Prolific Dutch heart researcher fired over misconduct concerns - Retraction Watch

Don Poldermans, a leading heart specialist, has been fired over concerns that he committed research misconduct. According to a report on the website DutchNews.nl:
"Erasmus University in Rotterdam has sacked a professor in cardio-vascular medicine for damaging the institution’s academic integrity and for ‘scientific misconduct’, the NRC reports on Thursday.
The professor is accused of faking academic data and compromising patient trust, the paper says. In particular, he failed to obtain patient consent for carrying out research and recorded results ‘which cannot be resolved to patient information,’ the university said.
Don Poldermans has spent years researching the risk of complications during cardio-vascular surgery and has some 500 publications to his name.
A spokesman for Poldermans told the paper he admitted not keeping to research protocols but denied faking data."
One of Poldermans’ most widely known areas of research involved the effects of beta-blockers on surgery patients, for which he conducted some of the foundational trails. A search of Medline revealed at least 75 publications on that subject alone.
So far, we have no indication about which, if any, of Poldermans’ publications will be retracted. Sixteen of his papers have been cited at least 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knoweldge, and one, in the European Heart Journal, has been cited more than 700.
Steven Shafer, editor of Anesthesia & Analgesia, which published one of Poldermans’ articles in 2009, as well as an editorial, called the news “mindboggling.”
"We’ll write a note to the university and ask them, is this paper fraudulent or not. When this happens you have to consider every paper suspect."
The case comes just weeks after officials at Tilburg University in the Netherlands fired Diederik Stapel, a noted social psychologist, for fabricating data in at least 30 papers.
Update 1:30 pm Eastern, 11/17/11: According to a statement from Poldermans’ institution, Erasmus MC, the researcher was fired earlier this week after questions surfaced about a study involving outcomes of surgery patients.
"Erasmus MC dismissed Prof. D. Poldermans on 16 November because of violation of academic integrity. Research carried out under his leadership was not always performed in accordance with current scientific standards.
An inquiry committee on Academic Integrity concluded that the professor was careless in collecting the data for his research. In one study it was found that he used patient data without written permission, used fictitious data and that two reports were submitted to conferences which included knowingly unreliable data.
Regret
The professor agrees with the committee’s conclusions and expressed his regret for his actions. Poldermans feels that as experienced researcher he should have been more accurate but states that his actions were unintentional.
Action
The study that gave rise to the inquiry committee having to take action was the health of patients who had to undergo surgery. The aim of the study was to identify which factors can contribute to being able to better estimate the risks of complications. There were no medical implications for the patients who took part in the studies.
Apologize
Erasmus MC will, however, endeavor to inform the patients concerned personally and apologize to them."
Here’s a link to a press release, in Dutch, from Erasmus MC about the matter.
All this suggests that the vast bulk of Poldermans’ 500-odd publications won’t require retraction. That should be a relief to editors and researchers — and patients — alike, given his outsized influence on the field. However, it’s still too soon to tell, and we’ll be watching this case closely as it unfolds.
Hat tip for press release: Larry Husten

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