Research misconduct, retraction, and cleansing the medical literature: lessons from the Poehlman case

Ann Intern Med. 2006 Apr 18;144(8):609-13. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-144-8-200604180-00123. Epub 2006 Mar 6.


The scientific literature is a record of the search for truth. Publication of faked data diverts this search. The scientific community has a duty to warn people to ignore an article containing faked data and must try to prevent inadvertent citation of it. The scientific community accomplishes these tasks by publishing a retraction and linking it to the fraudulent article's citation in electronic indexes of the medical literature, such as PubMed. This mechanism is far from perfect, as shown by a case history of scientific fraud perpetrated by Eric Poehlman, PhD. His institution notified 3 journals that they had published tainted articles. Two journals failed to retract. The third journal retracted immediately, but other authors continued to cite the retracted article. Another duty of the scientific community is to verify the integrity of other articles published by the author of a fraudulent article. This task falls to the author's institution and requires coauthors to vouch for their article's integrity by convincing institutional investigators that the suspect author could not have altered the raw scientific data from their study. Two universities are currently investigating Poehlman's published research. Maintaining the integrity of the scientific literature requires governmental institutions that have the authority to investigate and punish guilty scientists and requires that research institutions investigate alleged fraud. It requires journal editors to issue a retraction when they learn that their journal has published a tainted article. It requires research institutions to accept their responsibility to investigate every article published by a scientist who has published even 1 fraudulent article. Finally, it requires authors to take pains to avoid citing retracted articles and to issue a correction when they inadvertently cite a retracted article.

MeSH terms

  • Editorial Policies*
  • National Library of Medicine (U.S.) / standards
  • Periodicals as Topic / standards*
  • PubMed / standards
  • Retraction of Publication as Topic*
  • Scientific Misconduct*
  • United States
  • United States Office of Research Integrity / organization & administration
  • Universities / standards