Top Health Policy Scholar Resigns Amid Plagiarism Accusations

Prominent professor and researcher H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, has announced his resignation from Dartmouth College after an internal investigation found that he engaged in research misconduct.

The allegations of plagiarism stemmed from a 2016 paper on the relationship between breast cancer screenings and overdiagnosis. In August, an investigative report from STAT News and Retraction Watch revealed the findings of Dartmouth’s internal investigation: In an article he published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Dr. Welch plagiarized elements of research that Samir Soneji, PhD, and Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, PhD, submitted to the journal in 2015. After being rejected for publication in 2015, Drs. Soneji and Beltrán- Sánchez tried again in 2016. At that point, the paper was flagged as too similar to Dr. Welch’s recent article, thereby launching the misconduct investigation.

Dr. Welch has denied the allegations, insisting that his actions did not constitute plagiarism or research misconduct and noting that NEJM has referred to the matter as an “authorship dispute.”

Following the investigation, Dartmouth requested that Dr. Welch list the complainant as the first author on the study – and that he remain at Dartmouth without teaching responsibilities. Dr. Welch chose instead to resign.

“I cannot in good conscience accept the demand that I make the complainant an author – much less the demand that I make him the first author,” Dr. Welch wrote in his resignation letter. “Much as I have enjoyed working at Dartmouth, I am not willing to falsely attest to anything simply to stay here.”

As ASH Clinical News recently reported in a feature article (“The Code of Misconduct”), scientific misconduct is not always a simple black-and-white case, with many matters falling into a gray area between “honest error” and intentional deceit.

Sources: STAT News, August 20, 2018; STAT News, September 13, 2018.