BMJ: 20% of Health Research Is Fraudulent

Richard Smith: "The time may have come to stop assuming that research actually happened and is honestly reported, and assume that the research is fraudulent.”


In a new opinion piece in The BMJ, Richard Smith argues that “the time may have come to stop assuming that research actually happened and is honestly reported, and assume that the research is fraudulent until there is some evidence to support it having happened and been honestly reported.”

Smith, who was the editor of The BMJ until 2004, has been a tireless fighter for ethics in scientific research. He co-founded of the Committee on Medical Ethics (COPE), chaired the Cochrane Library Oversight Committee, and was on the board of the UK Research Integrity Office.

Smith writes that about 20% of health research is flat-out fraud, according to recent data from researcher Ben Mol.

Photo of a man in a suit wearing a mask at a desk with a computer and a tall pile of paperwork

Smith goes on to describe the case of Ian Roberts, who learned that a review he co-authored included data from studies that never actually took place.

“They all had a lead author who purported to come from an institution that didn’t exist and who killed himself a few years later. The trials were all published in prestigious neurosurgery journals and had multiple co-authors. None of the co-authors had contributed patients to the trials, and some didn’t know that they were co-authors until after the trials were published. When Roberts contacted one of the journals the editor responded that ‘I wouldn’t trust the data.’ Why, Roberts wondered, did he publish the trial? None of the trials have been retracted.”

Smith also cites a study from last year by J. B. Carlisle, who examined studies published in the journal Anaesthesia. Using studies that provided individual patient data, Carlisle was able to determine that 44% included false data. Carlisle wrote, “I think journals should assume that all submitted papers are potentially flawed and editors should review individual patient data before publishing randomised controlled trials.”

According to Smith, “Very few of these papers are retracted.” Thus, articles with falsified data make up a large part of the research literature, and it can be difficult for a reader to know whether to trust a study, even if it’s published in a respected journal.

Smith writes that peer review—the key quality-checking step in publishing a research article—doesn’t detect falsified data. Reviewers and editors begin with the assumption that the data is real and usually miss made-up data.

And there is no incentive for journals or academic institutions to detect fraud, retract fraudulent studies, or punish those responsible. Journals may find their reputations harmed if it comes out that they published fraudulent studies. Academic institutions face a similar risk, but also want to protect their researchers, who bring in grant money to the school (sometimes in the millions of dollars).

Even worse, it’s difficult to prove when a study uses fraudulent data. In many cases, other researchers do not have access to the individual data, and even if they do, it requires a lot of work to sift through for suspicious-looking numbers.

Smith writes, “Regulators often lack the legal standing and the resources to respond to what is clearly extensive fraud, recognising that proving a study to be fraudulent (as opposed to suspecting it of being fraudulent) is a skilled, complex, and time consuming process.”

One partial solution making all data available to the public so that other researchers can check the work. Another partial solution is the REAPPRAISED checklist (described here), which asks questions like who funded the work, how clear the methodology is, and whether there is anything suspicious about where the study took place or the participant recruiting process. For instance, if the dates given for recruited participants don’t match up or seem too short or too long, that can be an indicator that the data has been invented.

Smith writes, that in the past, “Research authorities insisted that fraud was rare, didn’t matter because science was self-correcting, and that no patients had suffered because of scientific fraud. All those reasons for not taking research fraud seriously have proved to be false.”

He adds, “We are realising that the problem is huge, the system encourages fraud, and we have no adequate way to respond. It may be time to move from assuming that research has been honestly conducted and reported to assuming it to be untrustworthy until there is some evidence to the contrary.”


  1. That 20% of health research is fraudulent is shocking. But the problem is even worse because much research, if not outright fraudulent, is misleading.

    Medical research often cites relative risk statistics, for example, which greatly exaggerate the efficacy of a drug. And there are many other ways researchers massage their findings as MIA has often pointed out.

    Just one example, a study on statins claimed they are effective in preventing heart disease in the elderly, but the study combined those with heart disease and those without to come to that conclusion. The researchers also did not adequately address the lack of a mortality benefit, claiming lack of statistical power to do so, something I don’t believe.

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      • The 20% is for studies that outright fabricated their “data”. The inability of studies to be replicated is another category. Studies being low quality and filled with flaws would be another.

        The Statin study likely defined “reduced heart disease” by a reduction in total cholesterol. It likely wasn’t able to find a reduction in mortality because taking a drug where one effect is reduced total cholesterol doesn’t necessarily mean an increased lifespan. An Analogy will show why. Taking meth will reduce obesity but also increases mortality. Drug studies typically do not look at long term effects at all or negative health effects not related to the drugs target. Research shows Statins increase the risk of dementia, cancer, muscle pain (reducing exercise), and diabetes. Those increased deaths won’t show up in a short to mid term study looking primarily had cholesterol levels.

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    Medically Dangerous Behaviour

    My 1980 History in Amsterdam, Holland

    Saving as a Result of Carefully Stopping Psychiatric Medication

    Medically Dangerous Behaviour
    As far as I was concerned I had recovered in Southern Ireland in 1984 when I was no longer dependent on the Irish Medical System. In October 2018 I consulted a UK based Irish Psychiatrist – who’s OPINION was that I had NOT suffered from ‘Diagnosis’ to begin with.

    Below is an Email from me to my GP Surgery with explanatory information:


    From: ME


    Sent: Friday, 16 November 2018, 00:42:07 GMT

    Subject: Att. All Partners and Dr Baluch

    Dear Sirs/(Madams)

    In your Letter dated October 17 2018 – you seriously misrepresent me.

    My trust in Newton Medical was broken in October of 2012 when (to my horror) I discovered my name had been on a Severe Mental Illness Register since 2002. At this time (2002) I had been working as a Building Subcontractor in the House of Parliament Buildings (and can substantiate this).


    On October 8 2018 I explained (and showed ) to the Reception Manager and to Dr Baluch at Newton Medical, that at my last appointment on July 20 2016 Dr Simons had given me in writing a sheet of paper from the Appointment Notes stating that – “he could see no reason that I could NOT work on a Building Site” . While at the same time Dr Simons had provided me with another sheet of paper from a “Legal Adviser” (July 20 2016)

    (which made reference to the historical 1986 Irish Record Summary) but also at the the bottom of the page stated – that I had a “Diagnosis of Schizophrenia…” and “had NOT DISPUTED this diagnosis..”.

    I explained on October 8 2018 that I had shown and discussed both of these contradictory statements received in July 20 2016 with a Building Health and Safety Officer who advised me to get this contradictory situation resolved – as the medical suggestions could undermine my credibility, and could affect me in the event of an accident on a Building Site.

    I have not suffered any disability in my 30 years in the UK; but Medical Claims of Present day Severe Mental Illness are invalidating. I presumed Newton Medical (promoting the disability) to be the first place to approach – this is why I called to the Surgery on October 8 2018.

    When I clearly demonstrated the Malpractice properties of the 1986 Irish Record Summary to Dr Simons in two interviews in October/November 2012 – at the end of both of these interviews Dr Simons shirt was completely saturated and sticking to his body (he was genuinely traumatised).

    But, there is no mention anywhere on my records of this Malpractice.

    I made Full Recovery in 1984 as a Result of carefully tapering from the Modecate Depot Injection with the help of Practical Psychotherapy – and returned to normal life and independence.

    Recovered 1

    Recovered 2

    Adverse Drug Reaction Warning Request Letter sent to Galway Nov. 8 1986

    ADR Request ltr Pg 1

    ADR Request ltr Pg 2

    ADR Request Ltr Pg 3

    The Irish Record Summary dated November 24 1986 was Sent To UK In Response:- but WITHOUT Requested ADR WARNING

    Irish Record Summary Pg 1

    Irish Record Summary Pg 2

    Wellness Presentation at Galway in November 1980, according to Dr Fadel

    Dr Donlon Kenny False Reasurrance Letter November 1986

    Near Fatal Modecate Experience 1.

    Near Fatal Modecate Experience Pg 2

    Dr Allen Frances (DSM IV) 1983

    “…Significant symptoms of akathisia occur in:

    around 20% of people on an antidepressant.

    at least 50% of people on an antipsychotic. On higher doses, this rises to 80% or more..”

    “..Around half of people on antipsychotics develop the condition…”

    “…..Neuro-psychologist Dennis Staker had drug-induced akathisia for two days. His description of his experience was this:

    “..It was the worst feeling I have ever had in my entire life. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…” ”

    Drug induced Akathisia is medically acknowledged to cause suicide.

    “Depot Antipsychotic Revisited Research Paper 1998” From Galway Psychiatrist Dr PA Carney.

    About 4 out of 10 of the people on these drugs will attempt Suicide.

    I notice that both Dr Simon Gordon and Dr Balucha are on the GP Commissioning Governing Board.

    Yours Sincerely



    My 1980 History in Amsterdam, Holland

    In the summer of 1980 I spent several months working in Amsterdam as a decorator, and staying at Barndesteeg 21, 1012 BV Amsterdam, The Netherlands (prior to returning to London).

    At Barndesteeg 21, I had been socially acquainted with a Northern Irish Born Again Christian who (closely) matches the description of the person below

    “Kevin McGrady” had at the time, been concerned about a conversation we were supposed to have had that I couldn’t place.

    There was NO mention of Amsterdam on the UK side of my Medical Records.

    There was NO Diagnosis from the (Maudsley Hospital UK) Psychiatrist but a strong suggestion of me taking ‘Street Drugs’, which I had continually denied. I had denied consuming street drugs; but in hindsight I can trace the circumstances of a “poisoning” (in Holland).

    Saving as a Result of Carefully Stopping Psychiatric Medication

    Had I been Severely Mentally Ill for the past 35 years I would have cost Several Million Pounds – I have cost nothing.

    Yours Sincerely


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  3. I know it’s a pipe dream, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some class action lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured, marketed, and sold these drugs based on false research, all with the help of the FDA and the media. Finally we’ve seen fines levied against the pharmaceutical companies over oxycontin and the other “safe and effective” opiates that caused that epidemic. We need class action lawsuits, malpractice lawsuits, fraud investigations for the epidemic caused by the psych drugs.

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  4. I agree with Steve McCrea. 20% is exceptionally generous. I would guess it could even be as high as 80%. I see this “research” released to the public mostly through media outlets. What they seem to base their research results on probably would have gotten me with either a D or F in my experimental psychology class in college and we already know how questionable psychology is as related to any science. There are usually so many questions as to variables and etc. In the end, what this does is make any science and health research so questionable, one wonders who really is being dumbed down. However, in the end, all this really does is make a less than healthy population. But, few have figured that one out, yet. Thank you.

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    • The other big question that is almost always avoided is, WHAT should the endpoint be? Is a “reduction in symptoms” really the result that is wanted? Is making a person “Less depressed” a legitimate outcome? Would we not want to look at “quality of life” variables as being more important to the client?

      Plus, Irving Kirsch’s work has showed clearly that the FDA rule of submitting two positive studies out of ALL studies being done totally skews the results. How much research is never even released because it doesn’t say what the manufacturer wants it to say? How many drugs are on the market as “safe and effective” when the TOTALITY of the data says that it doesn’t really work or is far more dangerous than claimed (Viiox being a great example)?

      There is much to be answered for in the area of “scientific” research, especially when it comes to psych drugs.

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      • It also depends on what is defined as “less depressed” The symptom scaled psychiatry uses find that answering “I am not depressed and am not mentally ill” will result in someone’s score being worse for depression than the entire stated score improvement caused by serotonin drugs.

        For neuroleptic studies if someone starts trusting psychiatry, agrees they are ill and need drugs, and are now longer disagreeable with the psychiatrists they have had a larger improvement for schizophrenia than the entire stated drug benefit.

        And those studies are he most flawed in favor of the drugs contain withdrawal, active placebo/unblinding, cherry picking and other biases to make the drugs appear more effective.

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  5. Thank you Someone Else,

    I remember trying to stop medications for a day or two once, but I had to go straight back on them. I was sure then that “the illness” existed. But I couldn’t figure out why I was okay without them at the start.

    It was only through cutting down and cutting down that I discovered I could actually stop completely.

    Like Dr Peter Gotzsche says, Neuroleptics are more usefully described as Major Tranquillisers. Because this is what they are!

    I would also support the idea that the Pharmaceutical industry has more or less taken over a lot of areas we assumed were independent.

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    • At one time, the neuroleptics aka “anti-psychotics” were called “major tranquilizers.” The “minor tranquilizers” being the benzos; valium, klonopin, etc. I think they first thought it softened the blow to call them “major tranquilizers” when prescribing them. But, then I am sure that they soon realized that calling “neuroleptics” “major tranquilizers” didn’t sell. One surely can’t make a tv commercial and call them “major tranquilizers.” The thing is that for most people, probably all, there are serious side effects, but, that is glossed over by the psychiatrists and their little lcsw buddies. But, those serious side effects damage, maim, and even kill. The other point is, I think, if the drugs don’t work or cause such serious side effects that can’t be used, very probably, there is nothing wrong with you and it’s all in the mind/head/brain of the psychiatrist and his or her lcsw buddies and not in your mind/head/brain at all. Thank you.

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  6. I don’t know which is worse, the fact that researchers fabricate data or the fact that the field doesn’t go back and refute them after it’s discovered (this kind of thing also gives credence to those who say that the research behind vaccines is bogus of course).

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  7. I am just not sure that we can ever have accurate, good data about any health research, even if well-intentioned. It is impossible to control all the variables when the subject is human. We try to use non-human animals in our research, but they are a poor substitute. As we human beings are the subject in question, we are too close to the subject to make adequate assumptions. Additionally, each one of us is probably sufficiently biased that we would likely interfere in the results whether we meant to or not. We really need to be honest about this and stop lying to ourselves, but there is a lot of money involved, in addition to things like power and control, so this is tragically unlikely at present. But, even more tragic is how this mostly fraudalent research endangers and damages so many lives. Thank you.

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