Science Betrayed: Reflections on research misconduct

April 4, 2011

Dr Adam Rutherford looks into misconduct in scientific research

A pair of 30 minute documentaries Science Betrayed have recently aired on Radio 4 (UK). In these programmes, Dr Adam Rutherford, Nature journalist and science interpreter for the broader public, investigates the murky world of scientific misconduct.

In the first episode, Rutherford looks at some historical and recent examples of misconduct ranging from the Piltdown Man hoax through to the case of South Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-Suk. He and his interviewees reflect on some of the pressures that lead researchers to fabricate data.

The second episode focuses more specifically on the case of Andrew Wakefield and the alleged link between MMR and autism. The programme includes an interview with Wakefield himself as well as investigative journalist Brian Deer who was pivotal in uncovering evidence of malpractice.

The episodes can both be accessed via the BBC website. At the time of writing the BBC iPlayer gives no mention of expiry date so I am hopeful these are resources that will be directly available for some while. It appears that there is also an abbreviated version (18 mins) of episode 1 (and presumably episode 2, once broadcast) on the Discovery site where it is actually downloadable as an mp3 podcast – thanks to Joe (comments, below) for this tip-off.

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Human Genome Project: 10 years on

July 1, 2010

The tenth anniversary of the announcement that the human genome had been  ‘completely’ sequenced, has led to a large number of programmes and publications reflecting upon the impact that this information is having upon biomedicine. On 24th June, Today, the flagship current affairs programme on UK Radio 4, included a very interesting interview with John Sulston and Francis Collins the men who, respectively, had headed up the UK and USA ends of the publicly-funded consortia. The interview (7 minutes) can be heard via this link, and a transcript can be found here.


The science and ethics of stem cells (audio)

December 6, 2009

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In March 2009 I was interviewed by SuperSonic FM, a Leicester school radio station, as part of their National Science Week activities. A recording of the interview (27.5 minutes) has recently been added to their website and can be accessed via this link.


BBC Radio 4 – Cancer Tales

February 4, 2009
Listen again to Cancer Tales via the BBC iPlayer (available until Monday 2nd February 2009)

Listen again to Cancer Tales via the BBC iPlayer (available until Monday 2nd February 2009)

On Monday 26th January 2009 BBC Radio 4 broadcast Cancer Tales as the Afternoon Play (aired at 2.15pm). This interesting and emotional radio adaptation was based on the play of the same name written by Nell Dunn (first published in the UK in 2002 by Amber Lane Press) which provides fictional accounts of experiences of cancer diagnosis and treatment. The accounts are very emotional and moving, and include the perspectives of the patients themselves, their family members and, occasionally, members of their clinical care teams. Dunn’s narratives are based upon the real-life experiences of cancer patients and offer a true-to-life snapshot of their experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Thus, Cancer Tales provides an opportunity to see many aspects of medical care and services from the patients perspective. This is particularly the case with the recent Radio 4 adaptation, which, within it 45minute running time, focusses on three of the narratives contained in the original script. These are all female experiences and explicitly dealt with experiences of clinical services (as opposed to wider social and psychological themes connected to cancer diagnosis). Read the rest of this entry »


BBC Radio 4 Today programme – Ethical issues in prenatal diagnosis and screening

January 22, 2009
Listen again via the BBC Radio 4's Today programme archive

Listen again via the BBC Radio 4's Today programme archive

This brief post concerns a short section of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, broadcast on January 7th 2009. The clip itself is approximately 4.5 minutes long and features interviews with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre, and Joy Delhanty, professor of human genetics at University College London, who prospectively discuss the ethical issues involved in prenatal testing for autism. It was broadcast alongside the corresponding edition of the BBC News’ weekly column Scrubbing Up, in which leading clinicians and experts give their perspectives on various issues in health and bioethics.

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To ‘Opt in’ or ‘Opt out’? – Organ Donation in the UK

November 20, 2008
NHS 'Transplants save lives' website

NHS 'Transplants save lives' website

Organ donation is one of the miracles of modern medicine; the ability to transplant tissue from one person to another without rejection has brought dramatic improvements in the day to day lives of thousands of people, in many cases it is literally life-saving.

At present, however, the sad reality remains that demand outstrips supply. According to the Transplant Activity in the UK report for the financial year 2007/2008: 3235 transplant operations took place, but 7655 people were waiting for a transplant (up more than 6% from previous year), and 506 patients died while waiting for an organ transplant, (it is thought that this number could actually be as high as 1000 per year).

The debate that surrounds organ donation is fuelled by society’s moral obligation not to allow these people to die needlessly. When a person dies and they are not on the Organ Donation Register (ODR) and/or their family do not grant permission for their organs to be donated, then none can be used to help those suffering on the waiting lists.

The UK Government is desperate to improve the number of organs available for transplantation. In 2006 this led to the establishment of the Organ Transplant Taskforce, chaired by Elizabeth Buggins, in order to ‘identify barriers to organ donation and recommend actions needed to increase organ donation’.  Their most recent report The potential impact of an opt out system for organ donation in the UK, published 17th November 2008, has received widespread media coverage. With the aim to increase the number of people on the organ donation register, they examined potential benefits and the viability of a move from the current ‘opt in’ organ donation system, to a ‘opt out’ system where by every citizen in the UK is automatically registered to donate their organs when they die unless they actively decide not to.  

This post highlights relevant and useful online clips whilst briefly discussing the central ethical arguments presented by the report. It also complements this with suggested questions to use while discussing the topic.  

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More tricky decisions – Inside the ethics committee

August 12, 2008
Visit the Inside the Ethics Committee homepage at BBC Radio 4

Visit the Inside the Ethics Committee homepage at BBC Radio 4

The fourth series of BBC Radio 4’s bioethics programme Inside the Ethics Committee began on August 6 2008, and discussed some of the ethical issues involved in the creation of ‘saviour siblings’ (first broadcast on BBC Radio 4, at 20.00, August 6 2008 and repeated on August 9 2008, at 22.15). Vivienne Parry and a panel of experts discuss the ethical issues around real-life medical cases, on this occasion the dilemma involves a young child, Catherine, and her medical treatment. Previous BioethicsBytes posts have noted the utility of this series (see the post Making tricky decisions – Inside the ethics committee), and this episode is no different.

Shortly after she was born Catherine was diagnosed with Diamond Blackfan Anaemia (DBA). DBA is a rare blood disorder caused by a genetic mutation. In general, its treatment is “gruelling” (00:02:27) and the prognosis is poor. As in several previous cases (notably, the Whitaker, Fletcher and Mariethoz families), Catherine’s parents were offered the option of using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for tissue typing alone in order to create a ‘saviour sibling’ whose umbilical cord blood could be used to treat Catherine’s DBA.

Many of the ethical issues involved in this choice have been dealt with in past BioethicsBytes posts (see The Future of Our Families? and the extended commentary that accompanies that post), however this edition of Inside the Ethics Committee brings consideration of these issues up to date. Though the majority of the ethical issues raised are covered in our existing posts, some of the additional details noted here about DBA and the testing procedure introduce new complications into the ethical debate.

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