Proven scientific/academic fraud can signal the end of an academic career and rightly so. It compromises the trust that people repose in the scientific community. There are few fields in science where integrity is as crucial as it is in the field of medical research,primarily because it has very serious implications in patient care. We have to acknowledge however that fraud in medical science has acquired pandemic dimensions and this is creating havoc of unprecedented proportions the world over.
Retraction Watch , a portal dedicated entirely to publicizing issues related to fraud within the academic community is ,in my view providing a stellar service and should be regularly followed by anyone with an interest in this matter. Its editor unsurprisingly is a medical academic. The portal posts new cases every day which make a fascinating and horrifying reading.
As an attorney specifically interested in human rights issues, I was therefore stunned to come across many cases where false allegations have been leveled at innocent individuals to settle personal scores. Some of these have had a devastating effect. It was also a revelation for me to appreciate that this skullduggery has been going on for a long time and it certainly eroded my faith in the academic community which I regarded was generally above these shenanigans.There is a total consensus among the academia that conduct of this kind is as reprehensible as fraud itself and should be regarded as a variety of scientific fraud.
I,as a rule, whenever confronted with such cases, make it a point to contact the institution where the alleged perpetrators of this conduct have an affiliation. To the credit of at least two such institutions, they did launch an investigation and took serious action when the fraud was proven.
However there is one such institution where the University, despite the gravity of the charges, has displayed an appalling reluctance to even launch a most preliminary investigation without providing any reason why they were acting in the manner they were doing so.In fact they have as of this date refused to even acknowledge my numerous letters and reminders.The episode raises some very disturbing questions and as both the alleged accused persons are senior medical personnel ,I have felt it appropriate to pen this column.
The University in question is Monash University located in Clayton, one of the suburbs of Melbourne. Although the University is barely 50 years old, its development has been dramatic. It has been developing campuses in many countries including India.It has one of the medical schools in Australia where the alleged perpetrators of this fraud hold very senior positions.
John Watson Funder is a senior professor with the University. He is a medical endocrinological researcher coming from a family of medical academics. His father used to hold a senior medical research position which he inherited. He is regarded as extremely powerful in the Australian medical academia and has strong political connections which have fetched him Order of Australia, the third most coveted civilian award in the country plus an Honorary doctorate from the Monash University itself.
David Copolov is the Pro Vice Chancellor of Monash University. Coming from an immigrant background, he was heavily promoted by Funder under whom he completed his PhD and took up a position as a researcher in biological psychiatry. Funder has always been his chief patron . He was awarded OAM ,the seventh highest civilian award in Australia.
A researcher used to work in the center where Copolov used to be the Director. Copolov disapproved of him intensely-suggestions have been made that this was because of this person’s race but Copolov has always stoutly denied that ;unsurprisingly this has become very difficult to conclusively establish.
Copolov ,one day, accused this person of fabricating data .The suggestion was completely absurd as not even the most preliminary draft of the alleged fraud existed.Coplov without any delay appointed a committee to pronounce on the matter and appointed Funder as its chairperson. The poor victim objected as this was a clear case of conflict of interest. Funder then threatened him forcing him to resign and leave the country. If that was not enough, Funder and Copolov approached a legislator friend of theirs and made him place a ‘report’ on the floor of the house under legislative immunity to avoid libel.
At this time, the other two members of the Committee, Richard Larkins and Barry Firkin,both professors of medicine, sent a note in writing that the report that Funder had got his politician friend to table was fraudulent-he had added several pages after obtaining their signatures.The victim reported Funder and Copolov to the Medical Board which was a mistake; John H.Smith, the Secretary of the Board used a deeply offensive racial abuse and asked him to get lost. Funder and Copolov then approached a journalist friend of theirs called Norman Swan and had him publicize this in the most unscruplous manner. They then approached Kerry Breen,the Chairman of the Medical Board and Funder’s departmental colleague and close friend since medical school days and continued with the persecution.
I , on getting full facts, wrote to Professor Ed Byrne, the Vice Chancellor and a professor of neurology. I apprised him of this alleged fraud and provided him with all the evidence. He did not even as much as acknowledge my correspondence.He left the University towards the end of August. Professor Margaret Gardner is the VC now. I wrote to her and copied my correspondence to the Australian Prime Minister and Victorian Premier. While the politicians acknowledged my letters, they did not respond. Professor Gardner did not feel the need to even acknowledge my letter and reminder.
People can draw their own inferences. I am sending copies of my correspondence to the Editor separately. The issue has major implications as many Indian medics aspire to have links with Monash University and actually the University is in a process of setting up satellite campuses in India.
While researching,I also came across two noteworthy facts. On the Monash University website in 2013, Copolov was shown as the originator of an inspirational quote. It was discovered that this quote was that of the famous philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. There was a national outcry and only after that did Monash correct the website to acknowledge the real author of the quote. Unrelated ,but he is the chief accused in a criminal trial as well. However the Monash University continues to repose confidence in this man.
By Sunil Srivastava