A Japanese scientist by the name of Yoshihiro Sato, recently made news in the scientific community after a team of researchers from Scotland and New Zealand revealed that the data published in many – if not all – of his 33 randomised controlled trials were fabricated.

"This statistical analysis demonstrates probable scientific misconduct on a large scale," said the journal's editor-in-chief, Robert Glass.

Almost none of the data published were found to be plausible

Sato, a bone specialist from Mitate Hospital in Tagawa, Japan, focused his work on the effects of various substances such as vitamin D and alendronate on the risk of hip fractures.

However, many of Sato’s publications have previously been pulled back from journals.

When three of Sato’s studies were retracted following his own acknowledgement of scientific misconduct, Mark Bolland, an associate professor at the University of Auckland decided to lead his team to investigate 23 other papers authored by Sato, in addition to seven separate studies related to bone health and fractures.

"Our use of statistical methods to examine the integrity of the data in 33 randomized controlled trials raises serious concerns about the reported results in those trials," said Bolland, of the team’s discovery of results reported by Sato which were starkly deviated from statistical norms.

In other words, the data was almost too perfect.

The red flags emerged from the results of his studies, which yielded questionably positive results and notably reduced mortality rates regardless of the treatment option, despite the fact that the patients who participated in his studies were of older age and with significant health issues.

Suspicions were also raised as Sato was a “remarkably productive” scientist, having conducted at least 33 randomised controlled trials within a 15 year period, with the outcomes of each study being outstandingly positive.

“In addition, results from these trials were not consistent with results found in similar studies by other researchers,” said Bolland.

“Taken together with the implausible productivity of the group, internal inconsistencies for outcome data in their work, duplication of data, numerous misleading statements and errors, and concerns regarding ethical oversight,” said authors of the study, “our analysis suggests that the results of at least some of these trials are not reliable.”

As it turns out, data from Sato’s research yielded a 5.2 x 10-82 – almost nil – possibility of being reliable.

Bogus data: One too many times

The bad news? This is not the first time, nor is it rare for such misconduct to occur in the scientific field, with Yoshitaka Fujii, a researcher in anaesthesiology from Toho University in Tokyo, holding the record for fabricating data in 183 scientific publications.

Unfortunately, the scrutiny of these fraudulent pieces occur mostly after the studies have been published, such as the case of Andrew Wakefield, who published the controversial paper on the link between MMR vaccine and autism in the Lancet. Though the paper has since been retracted, his infamous publication has caused many from the public to irrationally fear vaccinations until today.

While peer reviewers and journal editors usually catch evidence of fraud before the study is published, often times these rejected studies end up in lower-tier journals, with the evidenced erased, and the unethical scientists escape under the radar.

"Fraud in an individual paper may be difficult to detect. One cannot conclude that any one study in the analysis is, or is not, fraudulent," said Glass.

"As part of our due process, we have notified other editors of journals that published papers by Sato and colleagues communicated with Sato's institution, and published retractions of the three papers and a letter published in Neurology." MIMS

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