By Barry McLennan
Following is the personal viewpoint of the writer, assistant dean of research in the college of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.
I feel compelled to respond and attempt to clarify some of the misinformation which is circulating concerning the whiplash study recently published by one of the university’s former researchers, Dr. David Cassidy.
It is quite true that the study was sponsored by SGI. The majority of research conducted at the university is funded by outside agencies. All
research grants are provided to the university, and the university is responsible for ensuring that research funds are expended in accordance
with the terms of the various research agreements.
Each study has a principal researcher from the university who is appointed to conduct the study. The manner in which the research is
carried out, however, varies greatly. For example, some funding agencies supply funding to researchers to collect data but the funding agency
itself controls the analysis and publication of results.
In the whiplash study, SGI provided a research grant for the project to the university. However, in contrast to the previous example, this research contract was set up in such a way that SGI had no control over the study.
The contract with the university did not allow SGI any direction over the conduct of the research nor was SGI involved in the preparation of the final published document. At all stages of the research, the research team operated quite independently from SGI and at no time did SGI personnel interfere with the research work or the publication process. Allegations to the contrary are false.
It is quite true that in 1996, the U of S removed Dr. Ken Yong-Hing as principal investigator of the project and replaced him with Cassidy, because of the problems that arose over Yong-Hing’s stewardship (leadership) of the research project. Yong-Hing was also reprimanded (sanctioned) by the dean of the college of medicine for his behaviour toward. Cassidy, his staff and graduate students.
It is quite true that the university and Cassidy have been named in a lawsuit brought by a former university employee, Emma Bartfay. When the lawsuit was filed, the university immediately struck an independent committee of well-respected scientists to investigate whether there was any evidence of wrongdoing. The committee carefully reviewed all personnel records and other documents and the analyses that had been done on the study to that time. The committee also interviewed personnel involved in the study and concluded that there was absolutely no evidence of research misconduct.
It is a matter of public record that the university has countersued Bartfay, claiming that her work performance was unsatisfactory, she had a substantial number of absences from work without authorization, had a limited knowledge of the subject areas in which she was assigned to work and that she wrongfully deleted and/or destroyed and/or removed information, data and statistical results and research which belonged to the university.
References to "fraud" in the research have also circulated. The lawsuit does not contain any allegation of research fraud. This is a serious allegation to which the university takes great exception. These references do nothing but discredit hardworking and well-respected members of the university community.
The university takes great pride in the caliber and integrity of both its research staff and research work. It is fully supportive of Cassidy’s work and accomplishments. It is a great disappointment to the university that it was unable to retain yet another talented researcher because of our inability to compete with certain larger universities. It is important that the public be aware of the credentials of the scientific journal in which the whiplash study was published. The New England Journal of Medicine is the preeminent medical journal in the world. Only a small percentage of the research papers submitted are accepted and only the most significant studies are published.
Before studies are published, they undergo an extensive and detailed peer review process in order to guard against flaws in the data, study procedures or conclusions drawn.
Cassidy’s study was published after such an extensive review process and was found to be worthy of publication. Cassidy, the entire research team and the university deserve due credit for such a notable accomplishment.
I am quite dismayed at the manner in which this study, and those involved in it, have been so unprofessionally criticized in public forums and the press.
Academic debate is always necessary and welcome; however, it is not useful unless engaged in in a scientific manner.
The usual channel for academic criticism and debate is for researchers to conduct their own studies and then publish those to corroborate or refute the conclusions reached in any particular study. It does not advance the search for knowledge simply to state disagreement with a study’s conclusions.
If indeed accident victims recover more quickly under a no-fault system, is it not in the public’s best interests to confirm this through scientific research? If this conclusion is flawed, this should also be confirmed through further scientific research and study.
Emotional public debate having no factual foundations simply does not assist in the search for the answer.
This is certainly an important and controversial issue of great concern to the members of the public. However, I would urge that the answer be sought out in a logical and scientific manner.