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Thalidomide Doctor Found Guilty of Scientific Fraud

November 3, 1988

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Australian gynecologist William McBride, who alerted the world to the dangers of the drug thalidomide on human fetuses in the 1960s, was found guilty of scientific fraud Wednesday.

An independent inquiry headed by former High Court Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs found that McBride deliberately falsified the results of a 1980 experiment on rabbits involving birth defects.

McBride, 61, immediately resigned as head of research at the Sydney-based Foundation 41, which he started in 1971 to research birth defects. The institution was financed by the proceeds of international awards for his work on thalidomide.

About 8,000 babies were born around the world with severe deformities attributed to thalidomide, a sedative administered to pregnant women, until McBride’s findings led to its banning.

McBride issued a statement through lawyers protesting his innocence, saying: ″I reject absolutely the finding that scientific fraud occurred in connection with the experiment.″

It said he resigned ″because I don’t wish that there be any doubt cast over the work that I and the Foundation have done over the past 16 years″.

The foundation’s board called the inquiry after pressure from the scientific community about fraud allegations by two former research assistants, broadcast on an Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio program last December.

Researchers Phil Vardy and Jill French said that McBride reported in a 1982 edition of the Australian Journal of Biological Sciences that two of eight rabbits given the drug Scopolamine Hydrobromide produced deformed fetuses.

Vardy and French claimed that in fact only one of six rabbits produced deformed offspring, that a dosage table was altered and that the article falsely reported that fetuses were sectioned and control rabbits were kept.

Gibbs and two medical researchers began hearing evidence in secret in July.

In a 25-page report released late Wednesday, they supported the allegations and found that McBride ″deliberately falsified″ the contents of the article.

″The experiment mentioned in that paper was not conducted in accordance with proper scientific method and was not honestly reported,″ they found.

″The above experiment and its published results does suggest that in relation to the publication of those results Dr. McBride was lacking in scientific integrity.″

The report said McBride claimed in evidence that a drug company was out to destroy his credibility as a witness in legal action by users of a morning sickness drug. But it said no evidence of bias was found among the witnesses against him.

Foundation 41′s board said in a statement it accepted McBride’s resignation as honorary medical director of the foundation ″with regret″ and appreciated his offer to continue to serve while a replacement was found.

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