8 Nov 2013

Academic fraud cited as journal retracts paper

10:00 pm on 8 November 2013

One of Australia's leading universities is investigating new questions of possible academic misconduct.

Dr Caroline Barwood and Professor Bruce Murdoch have resigned from the University of Queensland after claims by a whistleblower.

The whistleblower alleged that there were no data to support a major Parkinson's disease study published in an international journal under their names.

The ABC reports that the allegation is true.

A review of 100 other papers published by the pair since 2007 has also raised issues of authorship with a small number of the articles.

In another twist, the University of Queensland has admitted that it accepted part of a $A300,000 grant based on the Parkinson's research in the month after the university notified the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) of its investigation.

The pair's a peer-reviewed paper published in the prestigious European Journal of Neurology, heralded a major breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, but the journal retracted the study after the University of Queensland made the unusual admission they could find no data or evidence the research was ever conducted.

The state's Crime and Misconduct Commission has now accepted that finding and the careers of both the UQ academics who co-authored the study appear to be over.

The paper's lead author, Professor Bruce Murdoch, resigned earlier this year, six weeks before the news the paper was fabricated went public.

The ABC has now learned co-author Dr Caroline Barwood also quietly resigned several weeks ago.

But before the article was retracted, the study's apparent success led to a number of grants.

Ten months after allegations of academic misconduct were first raised and one month after the investigation was referred to the CMC, the university accepted part of a $300,000, five-year research fellowship on behalf of Dr Barwood.

In a statement, vice-chancellor Peter Hoj says a review of about 100 studies published by Dr Barwood and Professor Murdoch has so far found no evidence of incorrect or non-existent data.

However, the review has raised questions about the authorship of a small number of papers. The ABC reports the University is now investigating whether the papers were the work of other academics not listed as authors or were plagiarised.