Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Suffering What Consequences?

"Toth did not have appropriate oversight of the data coming out of his lab. The result was a finding of a breach of research integrity."
"[Investigators] could neither verify nor dispute [whether Dr. Cory Toth's laboratory staff provided him with figures that weren't already manipulated without his knowledge. However, they found that his actions reflect a failure to adequately supervise and examine the work conducted in his lab."
"The faculty did investigate, which led to the retraction of the submitted paper and one paper already published."
Dr. Glenda MacQueen, vice-dean, University of Calgary medical school

"I can't say whether it's an official record, but we haven't seen anyone else in Canada retract that many papers since we launched in 2010."
Dr. Ivan Oransky, co-founder, Retraction Watch
molpain diabetescover

Dr. Cory Toth spend nine years at the University of Calgary medical school. During that time, the man who was the research director of the Calgary Chronic Pain Centre Clinic was the recipient of over $2.3-million in research funding. And he was a prolific researcher, a celebrated doctor whose reputation was unassailable. Now, however, because an investigation discovered "manipulated" data and figures emanating from his laboratory at the medical school, he was forced to retract reports from the medical literature.
Dr. Cory Toth, who is a celebrated and prolific doctor, has had to retract nine University of Calgary studies that contained bogus data.
Grant Black / Postmedia News    Dr. Cory Toth, who is a celebrated doctor, has had to retract nine University of Calgary studies that contained bogus data.

What happens to the impeccable reputation of a doctor given great responsibility reflected by his presumed knowledge when it is discovered that under his imprimatur respectable journals have published research findings that prove to be constructed on a flimsy scaffolding of data? A brief flurry of embarrassment and awkward attempts to rectify the situation. The embarrassment, it would appear, is not Dr. Toth's, but the university medical school's of which he was such an integral part.

Retraction Watch, a U.S.-based group whose purpose is to cast light upon some within academia's corridors of high repute choice to take short-cuts in research where they manage to manipulate and manoeuvre data to fit their theories -- rather than find good solid reproducible methods of discovery to support their theories, then publish the results honourably, enabling those in the field to do their own research based on the published methodology and its proven results -- revealed his ethical lack.

Dr. Toth did what he had no option but to do thereafter; resigned, after investigators with the university confirmed he had faked data in no fewer than nine of his research team's studies. Their publication cast a favoured light on the university; their retraction represents an emphatic embarrassment.  In his own defence he claimed to have spread himself "too thin" in Calgary, the result being that he then "failed to supervise" his laboratory activities in a proper manner. "I was unable to determine that data provided to me was not performed in proper fashion", he said.

Late in 2012, a journal reviewing one of Dr. Toth's studies (when reputably respectable scientific journals receive a paper for publication, it is peer-reviewed, which is to say someone familiar with the field of science involved, reads the paper to clear it for publication based on its content, verifying methodology and conclusion) "found suspicious data and asked the university to undertake a formal incestigation", explained Dr. MacQueen of the university medical school's administration.

"Subsequently, [subsequent to the watchdog group's original alert] Retraction Watch identified other questionable data" leading to a complaint that triggered a University of Calgary "Committee of Investigation" process. The university, according to Dr. MacQueen, was not prepared to release the report compiled by its investigators, however, "as it contains private, personal information", relating to Dr. Toth who left the university in March of 2013.

Dr. Toth, apart from receiving over $2.3-million in funding for research from diabetes and pain group and drug companies as well as from Alberta research agencies for research purposes, also received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, funded by taxpayers. He received a five-year grant valued at $600,752 to assess the outcomes of experimental treatments whose purpose was the reduction of brain shrinkage and dementia aligned with diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

No worry about Dr. Toth's professional future, however. He left the province of Alberta for greener pastures in British Columbia where he now works as a neurologist at Burnaby Hospital. Their neurology group website offers the information that Dr. Toth has had experience as a senior editor for several medical journals, wrote extensively on chronic pain, and was the recipient of a number of teaching awards.

While that description -- omitting information on the retracted studies that had attracted international attention -- makes it appear that this is a man of impeccable background and well-earned professional status, it overlooks the tarnishing of his reputation through the international scrutiny his rejected papers earned because of malfeasance.

What's more his experience as a senior editor, his capability as a teacher, his expertise on chronic pain, make it all the more unwholesomely troublesome that he failed so spectacularly to demonstrate that his reputation was well earned. He has in contrast, by his negligence and pathetic excuse, demonstrated that the loss of his reputation was well earned.
Journals Molecular Pain and Brain retracted two of Toth’s team studies for data manipulation and two more studies in Diabetes were retracted for image doctoring, “fabricated” figures, and using “older data not representative of the cohorts [of mice] studied.” This summer RETRACTED, in bold red type, was slapped on two papers in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, for data manipulation. The two most recent retractions, in the journal Neuroscience, are for “manipulated” figures and “faulty data” — bringing the total to nine.

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