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Hint of research fraud

New Delhi, July 29: Two top medical journals are worried that a doctor in India may have fabricated research data and that Indian authorities have not done enough to resolve these suspicions.

In commentaries to appear tomorrow, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and The Lancet have cast suspicion on Dr Ram B. Singh, a private practitioner in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Singh has published an exceptionally large number of highly-cited research papers on the protective effects of diet against heart disease.

Singh denies any wrongdoing. He has sent a legal notice to the BMJ seeking Rs 10 crore as compensation for damage to his “reputation, goodwill and health”.

The BMJ itself had published a paper by Singh in 1992 on how a special diet can prevent heart attacks in susceptible patients. The paper has become a “classic”, with other researchers citing it at least 225 times. In November 2002, Singh published a paper in The Lancet on how an Indo-Mediterranean diet including fibre, nuts and almonds can protect the heart.

But since the mid-1990s, Singh has been under an informal investigation initiated by the medical journals after some researchers raised doubts about the 1992 study and other manuscripts that Singh sent to publications.

In an analysis of Singh’s manuscripts, Dr Stephen Evans, an expert on statistical fraud at the Royal London College, said the data had been “either fabricated or falsified”.

When asked on occasion by journals to submit raw data, Singh claimed that termites had eaten up the papers. One of Singh’s co-authors from Israel, Elliot Berry, who visited Moradabad, claimed he “saw evidence” of this ' pages with holes in them.

To resolve the controversy, in June 2000, Richard Smith, editor of the BMJ at the time, wrote to the National Human Rights Commission which asked the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to investigate.

Senior ICMR officials have conceded there are problems in Singh’s papers, but said that since Singh is neither an employee nor a recipient of the council’s funds, there is nothing they can do. The ICMR has written to the Medical Council of India (MCI), the licensing body for doctors. Officials, however, said it is rare for the MCI to act against doctors.

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