Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

After lawsuit, university releases misconduct report about nutrition researcher Chandra

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R K Chandra

R K Chandra, self-proclaimed father of nutritional immunology (from www.drrkchandra.com)

Memorial University in Canada has released a five-year-old report of an investigation, confirming a former nutrition professor had committed misconduct in a 2001 paper.

The 53-page report — about Ranjit Kumar Chandra, a prominent and once-lauded researcher — focuses on a Nutrition paper that examined the effectiveness of vitamins patented by Chandra. The report, authored by MUN professor emeritus William Pryse-Phillips, lists 41 problems with the paper, which it concludes:

…was not in full compliance with the scientific, ethical, and/or integrity standards of Memorial University at the time.

The paper was retracted in 2005; the report is dated 2009. We asked Pryse-Phillips why the university took so long to release it. He told us:

The university was being sued by Dr. Chandra it was legally impossible to make any public comment. I believe he withdrew his case against Memorial.

(Update 12/3/15 9:41 a.m. eastern: A spokesperson for MUN told us they couldn’t publish the report during the course of Chandra’s lawsuit against the CBC, which we describe below:

To publish the report during the trial would been potentially prejudicial, so it could not be released.)

Along with the full report, MUN published a statement that confirms the litigation ended in July. It notes that the “findings of academic misconduct” have been passed on to a few journals, as well as a couple local health organizations:

The investigative report completed by Dr. William Pryse-Phillips, retired professor of medicine, has been finalized and its findings of academic misconduct in connection with a published research paper have been accepted by the university. As per policy, this information has been shared directly with the British Medical JournalLancet and Nutrition, as well as Eastern Health and the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The paper was initially rejected by the BMJ, in part because the scope of testing seemed to be outside the capabilities of a single nutritionist. Nutrition published it in 2001, and then retracted it in 2005 because of “numerous serious questions” that “call into question the study’s veracity.”

In 2006, the Canadian Broadcasting Company released a documentary — which the BMJ reviewed — featuring allegations of misconduct on several of his papers.

After the documentaries aired, Chandra sued the CBC for libel, requesting $132 million. He lost the suit in July.  He named MUN in that suit, but withdrew his charges against the university in July, according to a spokesman for MUN, who also told us:

I don’t think details about what Chandra was asking from Memorial have been made public.

A judge has since ordered Chandra to pay CBC more than $1.6 million to cover their legal fees.

Pryse-Phillips told us was surprised by the flaws he found in the paper — in part because of Chandra’s reputation:

I was surprised to find any problem in a paper. When I embarked on the task, I had known him as I’ve worked with him, I’ve been a colleague of his since the 1970s, I’d always regarded him as a highly reputable researcher. He got the Order of Canada as being a leading researcher. I think that says it all.

To our knowledge, this is the second MUN report about Chandra; the lawsuit against the CBC brought into the public domain a 20-year-old report on a 1989 BMJ study by Chandra, and led to the retraction of that paper. According to the retraction note, MUN

…said that the report “was the product of a flawed investigation process and could not be relied upon.” In the CBC programmes, however, a university spokesman said that the university had not acted on the report because of legal threats from Chandra.

We’ve been unable to reach Chandra. His website says that he’s currently the President of the Nutritional Immunology & Allergy Center, India, but does not list contact information.

Hat tip: Mark Quinn

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Written by Shannon Palus

December 2nd, 2015 at 3:52 pm

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