Fraud Is all Around Us and in the Places We Least Suspect


There seems to be a lot of fraud these days, but perhaps there always was; maybe it was just that we more naïve in those days. As soon as the Volkswagen scandal broke, the personal-injury lawyers were out in force -- a group whose activities are usually morally fraudulent if not illegal.

Research fraud in medicine is quite common and falls into two main categories:

  1. Fraud perpetrated by individuals taking short cuts to a brilliant reputation, or rather a reputation for brilliance.
  2. Fraud perpetrated by drug companies attempting to prove that their product developed at such huge expense is better, safer and more therapeutic than any other product on the market.

Although I have spent much of my career exploring the less meritorious aspects of human conduct, there is a type of research fraud that I had not suspected to exist until I recently read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Once you know that volunteers for pharmacological experiments are paid, it becomes obvious, and I feel slightly foolish for not having realized it before: the volunteers also commit fraud.

Some exaggerate the severity of their symptoms so that they are included in a study, and some do not reveal that they are taking prescription drugs, allowing chemical interactions which could alter the results of the experimental drug by more than one possible mechanism and in more than one direction. Others conceal (not surprisingly) that they are taking controlled substances. Generally speaking, the word of potential subjects for experiments is taken at face value; they are not tested because it would be too expensive to do so. Research is quite expensive enough to conduct without this added burden.