Cardiologist accused of misconduct strikes back in a journal
Retraction Watch readers may recall the case of Don Poldermans, a prominent Dutch cardiology researcher who left a research position in late 2011 amid an investigation into his work. In a letter in the American Journal of Medicine titled “Scientific Fraud or a Rush to Judgement?” Poldermans — three of whose papers are subject to Expressions of Concern — tries to set the record straight, something he has tried to do before.
Poldermans is responding to an editorial by Vineet Chopra and Kim Eagle, “Perioperative Mischief: The Price of Academic Misconduct,” which Chopra and Eagle based on a November 2011 press release:
Let me discuss the press release. I was accused by the Erasmus Medical Center of scientific misconduct in an ongoing study, of which I was the principal investigator. The aim of the study was to assess the predictive value of the hormone N-terminal pro B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) for cardiac complications in patients undergoing major vascular surgery. Several assertions were made, including: 1) written informed consent was not obtained from all study patients; 2) some patient data were collected in a negligent way; 3) some of the patient data were fabricated; and 4) fabricated data were used in 2 abstracts submitted to an international scientific conference.
Poldermans acknowledges that “written informed consent for the preoperative measurement of NT-proBNP was not obtained in all patients” in a trial called DECREASE-VI, and notes that he resigned for that violation (although many reports said he was fired). He also admits that “some results of additional cardiac testing were not found in the case report forms,” although he explains why the final analysis did not contain any missing data. And he responds to allegations about data fabrication by saying that information from “routine clinical evaluation and resting echocardiography…was entered into the same database column used for stress test results, but that
there was never any intent on the part of the investigators to represent these data as the results of protocol-driven noninvasive stress testing.
Finally, Poldermans writes that none of the data from DECREASE-VI study were ever published. He concludes:
One of the conclusions of the report is: “no evidence was found for any manipulation of the research results by the researchers in the sense of deliberate steering of results into a particular direction.” I hope this has clarified the press release based on which the unfounded accusations were made in the above-referenced review article. It would have been fair to approach me and just to ask me this before publication. In addition, the investigations are still ongoing, but given this publication, the future outcome will be irrelevant, as the authors have already accused me publicly. In my opinion, scientific integrity has 2 sides; also, the authors should give the accused an opportunity to defend himself and wait until the final report has been published.
reiterated that “violation of academic integrity occurred due to the lack of source documents, inaccurate data collection, and the use of fictitious data.”4 It concluded, “The report of the investigative committee on academic integrity dated 8 November 2011 has done considerable harm to the reputation of the research group involved. This 2012 follow-up investigation has not been able to limit this harm.”
Their original paper, say the authors “was not meant to be an indictment of Poldermans.”
Rather, we wished to highlight the caustic nature of scientific misconduct, recognizing that anyone can fall victim to these perils without close attention to warning signs and unending discipline to protocol and procedures. What has befallen Poldermans can happen to any scientific researcher whenever absolute resolve to strict research methods is ignored or allowed to falter. Indeed, Poldermans has stated publicly that he is guilty of these oversights.5 It is our sincere hope that he will emerge from this in such a way that his scientific creativity, once again, shines. However, there is little denying the consequences of these events—both for him, and for us in the perioperative community. Uncertainties about DECREASE IV, DECREASE V-pilot study, and pilot studies for DECREASE VI are soon to be communicated to the respective journals so that further action may be taken.4