Outcome of inquiry into 'Australian Paradox' research

18 July 2014

A formal inquiry into allegations brought against a University of Sydney academic and her research collaborator has found no research misconduct occurred.

There was no breach of the University's research code of conduct or of the Australian code for the responsible conduct of research.

Consequently, there is no basis for further investigation and the allegations have been dismissed.

The complaint concerned two publications in the journal Nutrients by Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and School of Molecular Bioscience and the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders, and Dr Alan Barclay, Chief Scientific Officer at the Glycemic Index Foundation Ltd.

The publications are The Australian Paradox: A Substantial Decline in Sugars Intake over the Same Timeframe that Overweight and Obesity Have Increased, published in 2011, and The Australian Paradox Revisited, published in 2012.

The complainant's allegations were about the scientific integrity of the data, data analysis and interpretation, issues surrounding authorship of the 2011 paper and conflict of interest issues in relation to the authors.

The inquiry into the complaint was conducted by Professor Robert Clark AO, Chair of Energy Strategy and Policy at the University of New South Wales, Former Chief Defence Scientist of Australia and CEO of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

The University determined that it should be distanced from the process rather than conducting an internal inquiry. Professor Clark was appointed as he is an external independent person of recognised high academic standing and with substantial experience in overseeing matters of ethics and integrity.

The purpose of the six-month inquiry was to determine how to respond to the complaint.

The inquiry found that of seven allegations made against the researchers by the complainant the only allegation substantiated concerned two "simple arithmetic" errors, specifically an inconsistency and an incorrect calculation.

These errors did not constitute a breach of the Australian code of conduct for research or the University's equivalent of that code and on balance the allegations were dismissed.

The inquiry found no wilful attempt by Professor Brand-Miller and Dr Barclay to act deceptively or to misrepresent the science and no basis for further investigation.

"Professor Clark has conducted a comprehensive, independent inquiry into this matter and found there is no case to be answered in respect of the allegations. His detailed and considered report offers lessons learnt that the University will consider in reviewing its processes," said Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University.

"Given the public interest in this area the University has published the report, while suitably protecting the privacy of some of those involved.

"I agree with Professor Clark's remarks that quality control of scientific output is most effectively addressed by the peer-review process which has a strong tradition of policing the system effectively.

"The University strongly upholds the principle of academic freedom whether in publications or commentary, in academics' areas of expertise. At the same time, researchers are bound by codes of conduct and ethical standards and the University has strong processes in place to ensure those standards are met."

Please note:

A copy of the report is available here. The process for managing research misconduct allegations is usually confidential however due to public interest, and with the agreement of Professor Clark, Professor Brand-Miller and Dr Barclay, the University has decided to release the report. Parts of the report have been redacted to protect the privacy of individuals who assisted with the inquiry.

Professor Brand-Miller and Dr Barclay have released a statement which is available here.

Professor Clark's role in this matter has been finalised and he will not be available for comment on the report.

Professor Trewhella is not available for interview.

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