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Vigilance versus vigilantism in science: Are ethics no longer important?

 


Michael James PhD, Senior Researcher, Rheumatology Unit, Royal Adelaide Hospital
Les Cleland AM MBBS MD FRACP, Head of Rheumatology (1982-2015), Royal Adelaide Hospital

In July 2016, the University of Adelaide received an allegation of research misconduct involving the PhD thesis work of a graduate student. We were her supervisors.

We first heard about the allegation not from the University but from a journalist working for ABC TV Australia. It was alleged to have occurred in our laboratory over 15 years ago.

The ABC journalist was in possession of confidential emails between the complainant and the University of Adelaide and the journalist was persistent in attempts to obtain our comments. Although the University process was confidential, it appeared that the complainant was working with the journalist to run a story on unsubstantiated claims before an investigation had commenced.

The claim was made against one of our former students, Dr Maryanne Demasi, who had been awarded her PhD in 2004. Since then, Dr Demasi has worked for the SA Government as a Ministerial advisor and most recently, as a science journalist for ABC TV’s Catalyst program. In 2016 she produced and presented a program covering the scientific debate on the possible health effects of the electromagnetic radiation from Wi-Fi-enabled devices like mobile phones. This attracted criticism from the Telco industry and the ABC imposed a three-month suspension on her duties. Dr Demasi defended her program (Demasi, 2016). However, shortly after her high-profile suspension, the allegation of research misconduct arose.

The complainant’s identity was not known to us but the emails we received from the ABC journalist described the person as a ‘leading Australian scientist’ from the prestigious Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI). The journalist’s specific mention of WEHI as the employer of the complainant served to give gravitas to the allegations. They appeared to have the imprimatur of WEHI.

The complaint was made in the form of several images of Northern and Western blots with arrows and annotations and alleged that Dr Demasi had duplicated some images in her PhD thesis. The experiments had been done 15-16 years earlier and the thesis was submitted 14 years ago. The topic of her thesis relates to the effect of hypoxia on expression and activity of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), a pro-inflammatory enzyme. There was no context to the complaint such as whether the allegations could have affected the conclusions drawn from the impugned figures or the conclusions of each thesis chapter or the overall conclusions of the thesis. Also, there had been no suggestions of any issue with the research findings in the 15-16 year interim.

The process for managing allegations of research misconduct was specified in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2007a). After an initial internal investigation, which took 11 months, the University convened an independent panel, external to the University, to examine the allegations. This was in accord with the Australian Code.

The Chair was the Honourable John Sulan QC, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of SA. There were three other panel members who were all academic experts. The panel took testimony from expert witnesses, from ourselves as the supervisors of Dr Demasi’s PhD studies, and from Dr Demasi. Witnesses, including ourselves, had previously provided written sworn statements and were questioned on these by legal counsel assisting the panel and by Dr Demasi’s legal team.

The hearing was held in Sydney. It commenced in March 2018, approximately 21 months after the University received the allegations, and ran over four days. At the time of our attendance at the hearing, we learned that the complainant had declined a request to attend the hearing to speak to the allegations under the panel’s rules of procedural fairness in place for all witnesses. The complainant chose not to provide a sworn statement presenting the evidence or context for the allegations.

The process placed the entire burden of proof on Dr Demasi. Most of the original documents from the experiments conducted in the years 2001-03 had been discarded years before, especially as our laboratory had closed prior to the building, in which it was housed, being decommissioned for the move to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. The allegations were based on highly processed images that had been generated on a scanner and computer technology dating back to the 1990s.

In response to three allegations, there had been duplication and this was intended. They represented the ‘baseline’ value for time course experiments and they were intended to indicate there is only one baseline for both the normoxia and hypoxia treatments. The expert witnesses and the panel agreed this was acceptable practice at the time, circa 2002, and did not constitute a breach in any code. The panel found no evidence of duplication for the remainder of the specific allegations where the respondent had denied duplication. The panel ruled that it could not substantiate any of the allegations made by the complainant (University of Adelaide, 2018).

Within 24 hours of the panel findings appearing on the University website, the online Post Publication Peer Review (PPPR) site ‘Retraction Watch’ posted the headline ‘Controversial Australian science journalist admits to duplication in her PhD thesis’. This headline thus began by branding Dr Demasi as controversial and then misrepresented the findings of the panel (Anonymous – Retraction Watch, 2018).

Motive for vigilantism has raised considerable discussion in the PPPR environment. The Editor-in-Chief of the journal Plant Physiology is critical of the anonymous aspect of online comments on the PPPR site, PubPeer, saying, ‘The overwhelming majority of posts on PubPeer are negative and occasionally malicious.’ He further states, ‘What of the bulk of comments posted on PubPeer? These relate to small errors and oversights, not the stuff of misconduct nor likely to arouse any but the most obsessive of temperaments’ (Blatt, 2015).

By contrast, PPPR sites are supported in the article ‘Science Needs Vigilantes’ which argues that the motive for making an accusation is not relevant – ‘are the vigilantes really doing something that requires explanation?’ (Neuroskeptic, 2013).

In the present case, the complainant had made allegations about thesis work conducted 15-17 years earlier for which there had been no previous suspicion of misconduct. If the motive of any science vigilante must be to correct the scientific record, there was no apparent reasonable motive for the complainant to trawl through this old thesis. Further, because the complainant worked with a journalist to run a story on unsubstantiated claims, it is presumed the motive was other than to correct the scientific record. The collaboration with the journalist overrides the requirement of procedural fairness, also described as natural justice, as required by Section 12 of the Australian Code.

In our view, the argument that the motives of vigilantes are irrelevant fails to recognise that their activities can preclude conformity with the standards for investigation of allegations and, consequently, the protections that those standards accord to participants.

The investigations were conducted according to the Australian Code (2007a). This stipulates that research misconduct has several mandatory elements, one of which is that it must have ‘serious consequences’. Therefore, an allegation of research misconduct requires content and context. However, this was absent in the allegations presented to the University by the complainant and to us by the ABC journalist. There was no suggestion that the alleged image manipulation could allow the student to make a claim or conclude anything different from that which was already in the thesis. Nevertheless, the process lasted for 21 months at great financial cost to the accused and at great cost to the health and wellbeing of the accused. It was a process that required no input from the complainant after the initial allegation.

The Code states ‘A person who makes an allegation must also be treated fairly and according to any legislative provisions for whistleblowers during and following investigation of the allegations.’ The standards for taking a complaint seriously are low, presumably to protect the vulnerable whistle blower. However, the standards for refuting even a mischievous complaint are high and onerous. Once the accused is shown to have no case to answer, the mischievous complainant should have a case to answer. The 2007 Australian Code is unbalanced and failed to protect the falsely accused.

The 2018 revision of the Australian Code devotes more space to dealing with a complaint that is made in ‘bad faith or is vexatious’ and states that ‘action to address this with the complainant should be taken under appropriate institutional processes’ (NHMRC 2018). However, such action will necessarily be limited or will be non-existent when the complainant is not an employee of the institution as in the present case.

This revision of the Australian Code and the Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Code (the Investigation Guide) published in 2018 together provide a manual for dealing with allegations of research misconduct while allowing scope for subjective judgements. The Guide does contain a list of “principles of procedural fairness” that institutions are “expected” to incorporate in their investigation processes. However, for these to clearly address circumstances such as those in the current case, it would benefit greatly from specifying ethics principles to be used in making judgements. Respect for persons, beneficence/non-maleficence, and justice are ethics principles that are adopted across medicine and human research (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2007b). The current case demonstrates unethical behaviour when measured against these principles. It can be argued that a complainant is not obliged to observe these ethics principles when making an allegation under the Australian Code because they are not explicit in the Australian Code. However, such an argument does not pass a reasonable person test nor would it prevent an institution requiring a complainant to observe the fairness principles that are now specified in the Guide.

Research Ethics Monthly invites debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.

References

Anonymous (2018) Retraction Watch. May 9. [cited 2018 June 5] Available from: https://retractionwatch.com/2018/05/09/controversial-australian-science-journalist-admits-to-duplication-in-her-phd-thesis/

Blatt M.R. (2015) Vigilante science. Plant Physiology 169: 907-9.

Demasi M. (2016) Sometimes asking questions provides you with answers that may be uncomfortable. Huffington Post. Feb 19. [cited 2018 June 5] Available from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/maryanne-demasi/sometimes-asking-questions-provides-you-with-answers-that-may-be-uncomfortable_b_9267642.html

National Health and Medical Research Council (2007a) The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/r39

National Health and Medical Research Council (2007b) The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/e72

National Health and Medical Research Council (2018) Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/17653_nhmrc_-_guide_to_managing_and_investigating_potential_breaches_-_v1-3-accessiblefinal_0.pdf

Neuroskeptic (2013) Science needs vigilantes. Discover magazine. Dec 31. [cited 2018 June 5] Available from: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2013/12/31/publish-damned/#.WwEm-iDhXct

University of Adelaide (2018) May 9 [cited 2018 June 13] Available from: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/research-services/oreci/integrity/inquiries/docs/summary-panel-report-for-publication-9-may-2018.pdf

Contributors
Michael James, Senior Researcher, RAH – Profile (see below#) | contactmjjames@gmail.com

Les ClelandHead of Rheumatology Unit, RAH – Profile (see below*)

# “Research activity in the Rheumatology Unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) from 1988 – 2016 involved laboratory based studies on lipid inflammatory mediators and their metabolic enzymes and also included clinical trials with omega-3 fatty acids in cardiac and rheumatoid arthritis patients. I was an Adjunct Professor in the Dept of Medicine at the Univ of Adelaide until 2018. I was Chair of the Royal Adelaide Hospital HREC for 14 years from 1995 to 2009 and have been Chair of a Bellberry HREC since 2009.”

* “Research interests have included production and regulation of lipid mediators of inflammation, clinical effects of dietary omega-3 fatty acids, early intensive treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and the role of T cells in  experimentally-induced arthritis. Member of Institute of Medical & Veterinary Science Ethics of Animal Research Committee 1984-2001.”

This post may be cited as:
James M. and Cleland L. (22 June 2018) Vigilance versus vigilantism in science: Are ethics no longer important?. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/vigilance-versus-vigilantism-in-science-are-ethics-no-longer-important

AHRECS team says:

Thank you everyone for commenting on this piece. While we’re sure Michael would be delighted to hear from you directly we’re going to wrap up the conversation thread here now.

This is a terrible, sobering story of how guidelines and principles can be, and increasingly are, abused. The complainant, who remains anonymous, lacked the courage to appear in person or produce evidence in a sworn statement. This is not that different to anonymous accusers triggering a witch trial in Salem, or to people with a grudge defaming others as Communists in the US during the reign of Joseph McCarthy’s terror.

Unlike in Salem, the assessment process appears to have been independent and rational. Nonetheless, I note that the university allowed the hearing to continue despite the complainant forfeiting their opportunity to appear, and without the sworn statement. It is as if the complainant correctly wagered that his/her/their initial complaint was enough. That is very asymmetrical.

The cost to Dr Demasi, coming on top of other well-known tribulations and “trial by media” must be immense.

The rules under which her PhD was investigated were framed in a gentler, more civilized time, when the idea that someone or some party could be so vexatious and vindictive as the complainant was in this case must have seemed far fetched. But Australian society has since evolved into a much nastier place (although it was always nasty if you were black, Asian or poor).

A step to make the playing ground more level would be that the complainant, if the accusation is judged as clearly vexatious (as in this case), must himself, herself or themselves face scrutiny, perhaps investigation and a charge for wasting everyone’s time and money. Under such rules, if the complainant cannot appear in person, nor even lodge a sworn statement, without excellent reason, then the case should be forfeited and costs awarded against the vexatious complainant.

The motivation of this complainant may in part be from a perception that Dr Demasi’s work on Catalyst has harmed the business model of one or more of the industries that were challenged in some of the programmes. Until and if that suspicion is disproved the anonymous identity of her complainant serves to reinforce the impression that one or more of these industries may have something to hide. The reputation of these industries would be improved by statements that they had nothing to do with the complainant, and also by a statement from the accuser(s) that he/she/they acted independently of industry.

It is clear that Dr Demasi has been a victim of an unfair process that has been exploited by a complainant, who I assume was aware of the system and took full advantage of its shortcomings to get his/her desired result.

The shortcomings of the system need to be identified and measures taken to address them. Just looking at how this deplorable situation has played out provides all the information needed for a solution.

1. Anonymity for a complainant should be conditional. It should stand if a complaint has merit, and protection under the law for a whistle-blower with a just complaint should stand. However, it should be made clear that if a complaint is found to be malicious, vexatious, without grounds, defamatory etc, then anonymity is withdrawn.

2. The burden of proof should not be placed entirely on the accused as is the case now. The complainant should be required to present proof supporting their case when making a complaint, to determine if it should proceed or not.

3. A complainant should be required to provide a sworn statement presenting the evidence or context for their allegations and to attend any hearings that are convened to discuss their complaint. Whistle-blower protection could be enforced where appropriate, and cowards using the system for their own ends can be exposed.

Brian Martin says:

The complaint about Maryanne Demasi’s PhD research was obviously part of a campaign intended to denigrate and harass her. This is apparent given the timing of the complaint coinciding with the attack on her Wi-Fi programme, the complainant’s liaison with a journalist, and the lack of substance in a complaint made so many years after the research was completed.
University complaint procedures are not well designed for dealing with campaigns of denigration and harassment, as I argued in an article published last year in the International Journal for Educational Integrity (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40979-016-0012-z).
Judy Wilyman, who obtained her PhD at the University of Wollongong under my supervision, was targeted for years by campaigners opposed to her views. One element in the campaign was a complaint about her masters project report completed some seven years earlier.
As in Demasi’s case, the complainant, whose name was withheld from Judy and me, involved the media in a story about the university’s investigation into the complaint. University procedures bound staff and students to confidentiality but could be flouted by the external complainant without any sanction. As in Demasi’s case, the investigation took many months and caused a great deal of stress. Judy was found not guilty of misconduct.
The university’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) subsequently wrote to Judy that the complaint never should have warranted a formal investigation and that she had “made it clear to the complainant that the appropriate forum for an academic debate about the quality and presentation of a researcher’s data and the strengths of their arguments is one that takes place in the public eye. University academic misconduct processes are not a forum for academic debate.”
There is no easy solution to this sort of abuse of complaint procedures. Perhaps the most useful thing is to alert university officials to the problem so they can use their discretion to dismiss vexatious complaints without a formal investigation. This excellent article about Demasi’s ordeal should be read by all university administrators who handle complaints.

Amanda Atkins says:

A global diabesity crisis is underway, country after country succumbing to increasing disease and ever more diverse diseases and requiring ever more pharmaceuticals. In a healthy scientific world, all those with alternative hypotheses would be taken seriously, ideas conscientiously followed up and where appropriate adjustments made to national policies & guidelines. Some of those alternative hypothesis may prove to be wrong, others may be utterly correct. Universities have a duty to defend all of their scientists against the commercial pressures that will inevitably result if their hypothesis prove to have validity. When society stops defending people with ideas it starts to disintegrate and that is precisely what is happening now. Commercial pressures have become paramount, never mind who gets injured in the process either the scientist or the public. Where specious allegations have been made, the University in question has a duty to call to account those making those claims and to identify what organisation attempted to benefit from besmirching a particular scientist. Dr Demasi deserves a full and complete apology AND accounting for all expenses incurred.

Chris Andersen says:

The clumsy mechanisms used by self interest, dogma and anti-scienxe are now easy to spot.
This sea anchor takes us all back beyond medieval. Sadly, progress is still measured one funeral
at a time. Happily, surgeons now wash their hands and stomach ulcers are treated with antibiotics amoung many other hard won long battles.

Joe says:

In the 1500s those who went against the authorities were tried as heretics. The actions of authorities today is similar but they use law fare and the power of the deep state , through unaccountable regulator bodies to silence dissent.

Phil Waser says:

This is a shocking crime against humanity (Dr Demasi). It is (practically) impossible to investigate a claim and be fair to both parties without considering the claimant’s motives for claiming. Being able to be anonymous is simply wrong. Using “trial by media” tactics should have been a red flag about fairness to both parties. Being an issue that occurred so long ago combined with a lack of justifiable reason for claiming is another red flag. My heart goes out to Dr Demasi, may the healing be swift and the system accomodate fair repatriation for this crime against you.

The title of this article appropriately uses the word “vigilantism.”

Science advances with new discoveries and challenges to the status quo; the status quo understandably doesn’t want such challenge. There is an insidious modus operandi taking place globally within the field of health and nutrition, likely in other areas subject to challenge. It is to try to use complaint procedures to silence those questioning ‘the way we do things.’ It has happened to the thoughts leaders in the field of health and nutrition in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the US.

For science to advance with evidence and debate, this vigilantism must not be allowed to prevail. The goal of such self appointed enforcement is not the truth. The goal is to stop any unconventional thinkers from seeking the truth. The goal is to denigrate those thinkers. If the conventional science were robust, challengers could easily be silenced with evidence. The fact that the complainants don’t do this – they attack the challenger personally instead – shows that the free thinker was right to question beliefs. The goal is not only to destroy the challenger’s reputation (to weaken their messages), it is to tie that person up in red tape so that they cannot continue to write and speak about their findings. Professor Tim Noakes has spent the last four years in a court room, rather than in a lab. Dr Gary Fettke has been similarly detained in hearings, rather than doing his job in operating and lecture theatres.

A light needs to be shone on these contemptible tactics. Of course it is unethical for someone, anyone, to be able to make a vexatious complaint and to put the life of an innocent researcher on hold. No coward complainant should be able to hide behind anonymity, while their brave victim fights for their reputation and research. It can never be right that one individual has everything to gain and nothing to lose and the other has everything to lose and nothing to gain. The balance needs to be redressed and I sincerely hope that Dr Demasi’s case is the landmark trial that ends this unethical presumption of guilt until proven innocent.

Graeme D Hoocroft, MACS says:

Where have the ethics, the honesty, and the just plain common human decency gone, within both our communities and our industrial, scientific, and educational institutions? Well, they have disappeared into the bit-bucket of history and been swallowed by the sheer bloody-mindedness of the modern psyche!

And why is this? In large part, it would appear, that this is a direct result of there being no penalty for those making specious or frivolous claims, to a well-hidden and malicious agenda, against anyone who may find and report facts that don’t fit the accepted story, as evidenced in the cowardly actions toward Dr Maryanne Demasi, allegations that have subsequently disproved!

I say cowardly deliberately because the complainants did not have the courage to make sworn statements, to bother to appear at the hearings, or to do anything else that would indicate there was any integrity to their original complaints!

It is time indeed that such complainants should have the flood lights turned back onto themselves, when it becomes obvious, as it has in this case, that they had no intent to protect the integrity of scientific research and that the complaint was merely a personal attack on a particular scientist who had dared to find results not in line with accepted belief! And we all thought the Inquisition was dead and buried?

It is time indeed to throw such people out of the institutional bodies that they attempt to use as unwitting blunt instruments, and to implement other consequences for making specious or frivolous complaints! Truth and integrity are important, and should be treated as such, and right now that just does not seem to be happening!

Melanie McHugh says:

Australian government organizations already have punitive processes available under various acts for managing vexatious complaints. I don’t see why universities don’t have the same identification and management process where it is an offense to make such a complaint.

Dr Jay Wortman says:

Institutions need to take corrective action so that their processes cannot be used for vexation and malicious purposes without consequences. It is sad that Dr Demasi was subjected to what should have been apparent at the outset was a specious complaint. The institution bears responsibility along with the complainant.

Athol Foster says:

I have followed the progress of this story from the start and by no means is this the end. But it now has taken a 180 degree turn, I expect to see apologies from all those who were so eager to destroy Dr Maryanne Demasi’s reputation followed by financial reparations.

Frances Lilian Wellington says:

Thus far, we have half of the full story. The other half is yet to be created and made public for all to witness, in my humble opinion. Starting with… the full details of ALL identies of persons that concocted this utter nonsense in the first place should be widely publicised (to be fair). Monies (plus $ interest) outlayed should be reimbursed to all parties defending the good doctor (to be fair). Verbal apologies by the complainant to the good doctor should be created on visual media and be recorded and distributed publicly to citizenship (to be fair). If I were in the good doctor’s position these are the actions I would want to occur. Forthwith. No delay. No further bullshittery.

This is yet one more example of the vulnerability of scientists who disagree with invented science–such as the need for statins to save lives. It appears that there is no more difficult job today than to be a scientist and stand against the dogma. This is clear. What is not clear is why an anonymous accuser is taken seriously. While whistle-blowers certainly have the right to “protection” under the law, they really don’t have the right–or at least they should have no right–to accuse anonymously.

It is far too easy to accuse anyone of anything at any time for no legitimate reason if we permit anonymous accusers to proceed. And indeed, as in a comment above: ‘innocent until proven guilty’ must hold under any law. In this case Dr. Demasi was considered guilty first and had to prove her innocence, which is exactly the opposite of what the law says.

And what about the legal case associated with a false accusation? It is defamation in the eyes of the law. Defamation is a crime! Should the accuser remain without a legal case against him/her/them? Where is justice served against the accuser???

I think the University of Adelaide has the responsibility to file a defamation lawsuit against the accuser. While the whistle-blower may remain anonymous pending the case against who was accused, once that case has proven to be false, the tables are turned!

This is yet one more example of the vulnerability of scientists who disagree with invented science–such as the need for statins to save lives. It appears that there is no more difficult job today than to be a scientist and stand against the dogma. This is clear. What is not clear is why an anonymous accuser is taken seriously. While whistle-blowers certainly have the right to “protection” under the law, they really don’t have the right–or at least they should have no right–to accuse anonymously.

It is far to easy to accuse anyone of anything at any time for no legitimate reason if we permit anonymous accusers to proceed. And indeed, as in a comment above: ‘innocent until proven guilty’ must hold under any law. In this case Dr. Demasi was considered guilty first and had to prove her innocence, which is exactly what the law says.

And what about the legal case associated with a false accusation? It is defamation in the eyes of the law. Defamation is a crime! Should the accuser remain without a legal case against him/her/them? Where is justice served against the accuser???

I think the University of Adelaide has the responsibility to file a defamation lawsuit against the accuser. While the whistle-blower may remain anonymous pending the case against who was accused, once that case has proven to be false, the tables are turned!

A terrible smear campaign attempting to discredit. The perpetrators should be held accountable.

Jeffry Gerber, MD
Family Physician
Denver, Colorado USA

Glen Finkel says:

Been following MaryAnne for a while. Think it’s disgusting that this still happens. Big corporations pulling the strings, ruining lives, all in the name of profit.

A huge amount of money is spent in defending complaints in the NHS in the UK. There is no downside for the complainer and costs are either met from health care professionals, often via their defence organisations, or from public funds. There is therefore a societal financial cost in that this money would be spent elsewhere, and also a cost in morale and time spent for the health care professionals involved and their families. Sometimes severe mental health problems, career limitation and suicide result even when their is no wrong doing whatsoever. The only people who seem to obtain any gain are lawyers. Relatively few of these complaints are upheld. There is often a vexatious component to these and many complainers do so repeatedly. The victim culture is so pervasive and damaging overall that the balance between the complainer and the complained about needs to be addressed. I would support that a substantial fee for investigation of complaints is submitted to reflect the costs of an investigation by the complainer and is forfeited if the complaint is not upheld. There must be a downside for the complainer in order to limit vexatious complaints.

Mario says:

Dr Demasi has been deservedly and fully exonerated. In basic fairness all her expenses should be reimbursed and she should be compensated for the stress of a struggle that simply should not have occurred in the first place. It’s a classic case of misusing and abusing a very imperfect system to try to bismirch, demean and suppress an honest scientist who puts the interests of truth, and of the community, above the vested interests of rapacious and obsessive greed for power and money.

There are two conjoined issues here. Process and moral hazard, which are common to many ‘complaint’ systems against professionals. The process in this case is too blunt. Clearly, there needs to be a system of deciding if a complaint has any real basis in truth, or chance of success, before going to a costly and potentially damaging full scale hearing. This does not appear to be the case here.

Moral hazard represents the ‘cost’ to the complainant. Clearly if someone can simply make up an accusation, cause enormous harm, remain anonymous and suffer no consequences whatsoever, we are looking at a system that cannot be considered balanced, or fair. It will also encourage vexatious complaint after vexatious complaint as there is no cost to doing so. The cost may not be financial. However in this case the complainant should lose the right to anonymity, the judgement against them should be to condemn them for making a vexatious complaint and their name should be placed on a list of vexatious complainers – or something of a sort. This would represents a major reputational ‘cost’ and re balances the moral hazard. It would also help the person who had the complaint made against them, as they could simply point to the judgement. in addition it would discourage further accusations.

This case also highlights the difficulty of anyone who attempts to go against the mainstream scientific consensus. It is remarkably easy to destroy a scientific reputation through false allegations. Dr Demasi has bravely ‘taken on’ a number of important issues, with massive financial considerations, and appears to have suffered the consequences. Other scientists watching what has happened to her will have taken note, and may feel that the cost of pursuing alternative hypotheses is too high. Which make cases like this extremely damaging to scientific progress.

I truly hope that this case will lead to some changes in how complaints are handled in the future.

Vexatious and unsubstantiated complaints are tying up many health care professionals under the ‘umbrella’ of patient and community ‘safety’. The AHPRA process in Australia is being used as a way of outsourcing conflict resolution.

The science establishment and universities, in this case, the University of Adelaide, have fallen for the same scam. They have tied up a good scientist professionally, financially and emotionally for a lengthy period and the ‘mud slinging’ has not been addressed. Where was the accuser to defend the accusations? Conspicuously absent and not/never accountable. This has to be addressed in fairness to all.

Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’? The ‘Inquisition’ is back in town and our universities and health system have succumbed. We, as individuals within the system, are losing the ability to debate. We are only left with the option of to defend.

Jack says:

Did this actually happen?

How come this hasn’t been in the media?

How can he make the accusations and not even front to be proofed?

What are their thresholds for commencing a full inquiry?

Fancy copping 21 months of stress and cost because of this?

Surely the Uni has to be subject to an independent investigation into their own conduct?

And who will cop it next from this [NAME REDACTED] fellow?

Gee its sad the Uni served up one of their own. Really sad.

Jack

Karl Muller says:

Dr Maryanne Demasi was subjected to one of the nastiest coordinated smear campaigns against a journalist seen in the mainstream Western media for years. There is no question that this caompaign was organised and orchestrated by various industry, government, and academic players. Dr Demasi tackled statins — the single most profitable class of drugs in the history of medicine — and wireless technology, probably the single most powerful industry on the planet right now. And she paid dearly for her insight, integrity and competence.

The fact that the “complainant” against Dr Demasi did not have the guts to appear and present evidence, or to present a sworn statement, shows that this was an entirely malicious complaint, filed in collaboration with a journalist deliberately to smear a TV journalist whose work was threatening certain very powerful interests. This is straight academic thuggery.

Thank you for setting the record straight. This kind of outright gangsterism must be eliminated entirely from the scientific debate.

Scott Taylor says:

Well said Karl, I could not have said it better myself. The satisfaction received by the malicious trolls who spun the outcome of the hearing and the placing of the burden of proof onto the accused are incomprehensible to me. I can only hope that our society will continue to produce people with Ms Demasi’s character, we need them.