Public health

High profile journalist cleared over research misconduct allegations

Controversial science journalist Maryanne Demasi has been cleared over allegations of misconduct stemming from rheumatology doctoral research completed more than a decade ago.

Dr Demasi – who came under fire for her reporting on statins and was later suspended from on-air duties with the ABC’s Catalyst program over a segment linking wi-fi to brain cancer – was accused of duplicated and/or manipulating images depicting the results of Western or Northern blot in her PhD thesis, which was completed in 2004 at the University of Adelaide.

This in turn triggered the Journal of Biological Chemistry to issue an “expression of concern” to a related 2003 paper co-authored by Dr Demasi.

The University of Adelaide appointed a panel of independent experts to investigate 17 allegations against Dr Demasi, who worked in medical research before becoming a reporter for the ABC’s science program.

A forensic imaging expert told the panel that x-ray films concerning 14 of the allegations had been discarded or lost and it would be “dangerous” for it to make any findings of duplication in their absence.

Meanwhile, Dr Demasi admitted she had duplicated – or probably duplicated – images which related to the remaining three allegations.

But she said she understood the practice was “acceptable at the relevant time for the particular category of images at issue,” according to the panel’s final summary report published on the University of Adelaide’s website.

“The relevant experts agreed albeit they considered duplication was not best practice” and the panel “could not be satisfied that the duplication constituted a deviation from the applicable standards at the relevant time”, the report concluded.

Dr Demasi took to Twitter to respond to the decision.

“The independent finding is an unequivocal rejection of each and every claim, all of which were found to be unsubstantiated,” she said in the statement posted online.

“It has taken almost two years of legal expense and time to defend myself against allegations that had no basis. Moving forward, serious questions need to be asked about the current process for making and assessing such claims to ensure that careless or vexatious claims are rightfully weeded out”.

The University of Adelaide said it has accepted the panel’s findings and no further action would be taken.

Last year the ABC suspended Dr Demasi from on-air duties over a story which linked wi-fi and brain tumours.

A review by the national broadcaster found the story breached its editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality, by “favouring  the unorthodox perspective that wireless devices and wi-fi pose significant health risks”.

Another one of her reports about statins and heart disease also breached these guidelines, the review found.

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