Parkinson’s researcher avoids jail following fraud conviction

Caroline Barwood
Caroline Barwood

Parkinson’s researcher Caroline Barwood was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence today after being found guilty of fraud yesterday by a jury in Brisbane, Australia.

A jury had found Barwood guilty of five out of the seven charges against her.

Earlier this year, Bruce Murdoch, a former colleague of Barwood’s at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia, pleaded guilty to 17-fraud-related charges, and earned himself the same sentenceIn Barwood’s week-long trial, the court heard that she was previously in an intimate relationship with Murdoch. Both left the UQ in 2013.

Barwood’s attorney, Gregory McGuire, told Retraction Watch he thought the sentence was “fair,” but noted that Murdoch had a higher number of charges against him, and received the same sentence. One difference, he added, was that unlike Barwood, Murdoch pleaded guilty.

A judge, who referred to Barwood’s failure to plead guilty in his comments in court, sentenced Barwood to the two-year sentence as well as a 15-month sentence, to be served concurrently.

One fraud charge against Barwood — who was granted bail in 2014 — was related to obtaining a scholarship from the Lions Medical Research Foundation, McGuire said. Earlier this year, The Australian reported that the UQ had returned part of a $300,000 (AUD) grant to Barwood from the organization. The other charge, he added, was a result of including her name on two studies without justification. 

Barwood, 31, was found to have tried to obtain up to $700,000 (AUD) for a 2009 study about Parkinson’s disease that never took place, 9News reported.

Two of the three charges of attempted fraud, McGuire said, included trying to obtain funds by applying to early career fellowships. The other was for dishonestly trying to earn a travel grant of $2,000 to travel to a conference and present a paper.

As 9News reported last week, Barwood twice tried to obtain almost $300,000 (AUD) from the National and Medical Research Council through applications for an early career fellowship. On both occasions, her applications were unsuccessful.

A UQ spokesperson sent us this statement:

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the court findings against the two researchers sent a clear signal that research misconduct was deplorable and unacceptable.

“This exemplifies our unstinting commitment to research integrity, and illustrates that we will investigate research misconduct matters forensically and refer them to relevant authorities where our findings dictate such action.”

The University raised concerns about Dr Murdoch and Dr Barwood’s research with an academic journal and reported the case to the then Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) in September 2013.

UQ asked the European Journal of Neurology to retract a paper co-authored by Dr Murdoch and Dr Barwood on the grounds that “no primary data can be located, and no evidence has been found that the study described in the article was conducted”.

The University investigated the matter in accordance with its Research Misconduct Policy and Procedures, and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Universities Australia.

Investigations led to the retraction of three further papers published in Aphasiology, International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (IJSLP) and Brain Injury, and corrections or errata on another four.

“UQ has worked with a range of authorities and has reimbursed about $175,000 to funding bodies associated with Dr Murdoch’s work,” Professor Høj said.

“The University has been complimented for its proactive and open stance on this matter and I’m pleased that proceedings have now reached an end.

“UQ has ongoing educational programs to inform researchers of their obligations under University policy and the Australian Code for Responsible Conduct of Research to conduct their research with responsibility and integrity, and I am confident that the vast majority of our researchers take research integrity very seriously,” he said.

Barwood has 28 days to appeal the sentence or the conviction, McGuire said.

Yesterday, McGuire had told the court that Barwood had already paid an “extraordinarily high price,” and lost her career due to a lie told by Murdoch. Today, according to 9Newsthe judge said:

The influence of Murdoch does temper somewhat your criminality in offending.

The jury failed to reach a majority verdict on one fraud charge and once count of attempted fraud, and will “return to court for a mention on November 15, 9News reported.

Barwood has notched three retractions and a “reader alert.” Murdoch has also earned a fourth retraction for a paper that isn’t authored by Barwood.

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