From the Archives of Scientific Fraud – Christopher Gillberg

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Christopher Gillberg, the psychiatrist at the center of a dispute about granting access to research data in Sweden, has been given a conditional sentence and fined 37,500 kronor (£2,800; $4,800; €4,000) plus legal costs of 80,000 kronor for “misuse of office” by the criminal court in Gothenburg. The conditional sentence obliged him not to commit any similar offences for a period of two years. The court ruled that Gillberg, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Gothenburg University and world-class expert in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), had acted “willfully” when he refused to follow his employer’s directives to make his research data available to the university management.

Two other university employees, vice chancellor Gunnar Svedberg and board chairman Arne Wittlöf, were charged together with Professor Gillberg for “misuse of office” over their alleged role in withholding access to the research data.
The case against Arne Wittlöf was dismissed. He successfully argued that it was the vice chancellor’s responsibility to hand over requested documents, not the board’s. Professor Svedberg, by contrast, was found guilty, fined 32,000 kronor, and ordered to pay legal costs of 32,500 kronor.[1]

 

Swedish psychiatrist Christofer Gillberg is a world-renowned researcher on autism in children and a leading, world-class expert in Asperger’s syndrome. He was the Editor-in-Chief of European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry journal. He is mentioned as an author or editor in numerous scientific publications and books. He has received multiple scientific awards, including Philips Nordic Prize in 2004. He has built his international reputation largely on the discoveries in the area of genetic aspects of autism. The court declared Gillberg guilty, mostly because of… certain contradictory laws in Swedish legal system. On one hand, all the data and information collected and acquired with public funds must be made publically available to all citizens. On the other hand, the medical data included in the study could not be completely anonymized. Researchers collecting the data also assured the patients and their families about the confidential nature of gathered information. Gillberg’s decision not to disclose sensitive medical data of his patient’s was supported by many of his colleagues and by the families of people involved in his studies. The court’s judgment raised nation-wide debate and consequently led to changes in the laws regulating disclosure of data, particularly those of medical nature. We need to ask however, if such ethical issues can serve as sufficient explanation for ordering destruction of research material gathered for at least 12 (and in some cases even 27) years?

 

[1] White. C. Swedish court rules against doctor at centre of row over destroyed research data. “BMJ” 331;180.7, 21 July 2005. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7510.180-f.

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