Judging the Medics’ Science: misconduct and research culture in disciplinary proceedings

How has the regulation of medical professionals been understood and how this has shaped the concept of scientific misconduct since 1990?

Research Context

In July 2011, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in its Report Peer-review in scientific publications, declared that research integrity is 'unsatisfactory' in the UK.

Yet to date academic research has not systematically mapped how the concept of integrity in scientific research has evolved, and scholars have not rigorously studied the development of the regulatory mechanisms to prevent and respond to instances of science misconduct in the UK. Given that scientific work is under growing scrutiny, there is a crying need for such research to be undertaken. This AHRC Fellowship aims to fill part of that gap, by focusing on how the regulation of UK medical doctors, via the jurisdiction of the General Medical Council, has understood the idea of trust, integrity, professionalism, and misconduct in science.

The project will thus explore the cultural context of scientific misconduct, including the recent breakdown of trust in the medical profession, and public expectations of transparency in science.

The main research question to be addressed is:

How has the regulation of medical professionals been understood and how this has shaped the concept of scientific misconduct since 1990?

Sub-questions include:

1. How is scientific research culture portrayed in GMC decisions?

2: How do GMC decisions (and appeals) distinguish mistake, negligence, misconduct, and fraud in scientific medicine, and with what effects?

3: How do procedures relate to substantive rules in this area?

4: How are sanctions applied to different forms of non-compliance?

5: What are the limits to the effectiveness of this area of disciplinary law?

The Fellowship is part of a larger interdisciplinary programme, which combines textual analysis and ethnographic practice, in order to map legal and regulatory mechanisms that prevent and respond to misconduct in science. This larger programme will eventually form the basis of Trials of Research, a book manuscript on the legal cultures of research integrity.


The PI of Judging the medics science is Marie-Andree Jacob. The project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Early-career Fellowship, and hosted by the Research Institute for Social Sciences at Keele University.

This project builds on my previous work on the cultures of expertise and multidisciplinarity, and on how certain medical activities come to be viewed as legal or illegal. For more information and a list of publications see: http://www.keele.ac.uk/law/staff/academicstaff/marie-andreejacob/

Anyone interested in learning more about the Judging the medics’ science project should email me at the following address: m.jacob@keele.ac.uk

Advisory Team

  • Professor Steve Wilkinson, Keele University
  • Professor Michael Thomson, University of Keele

Related Projects

Judging the medics’ science is part of a larger programme of work on the legal cultures of research integrity. This programme includes various smaller projects:

Ethnographic fieldwork in the Committee on Publication Ethics:

From December 2010 onwards, I have been conducting ethnographic observations in COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics), an international organisation involved in preventing scientific misconduct.

The Illegal in Socio-legal studies:

This work-in-progress reflects theoretically on two different projects of mine that deal the regulation of ‘new’ scientific activities.  Using the moderation of scientific research publications, and consent to medical procedures as my cases, I analyse one of the common denominators: the category of the illegal. I suggest that in the context of certain modern activities, the domains of legal and illegal are inseparable, by virtue of their very management protocols.

The regulation of research in the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The questions that will interest us in this short essay are: What does the ambient suspicion towards science mean for the advancement of knowledge trough research within complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? What do public demands for integrity and transparency in biomedical research imply for the regulation of research in the sphere of CAM?

This paper addresses these questions by reflecting on the developing relation between the regulatory state and the ‘knowledges’ on which CAM research is based. On the basis of a review of the literature coming from the fields of law, ethics, and social sciences, it offers a descriptive and critical account of selected issues pertaining to CAM research and CAM researchers.

This project is conducted with the research assistance of Paven Sharma.

Publications and Conference Papers

  • AHRC Judging the medics' science workshop, in collaboration with Jean McHale, University of Birmingham, May 2013, details to follow
  • 17-21 October 2012: Presentation at the Society for Social Studies of Science/European Association for the Study of Science and Technology Meeting, Copenhagen.

  • Jacob M., But What Does Authorship Mean, Indeed? The American Journal of Bioethics, 2011, vol. 10(11), 28: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15265161.2011.603812
  • “Mobilising Technology as a Mode of Regulation: Examining the Case of Medical Research” Wellcome Trust Workshop: Regulating Health Technologies, Royal Society of Medicine, 13 May 2011.
  • “A responsible body of scientific evidence: Research integrity and conduct, and the regulation of CAM,” Regulation and Professionalization in Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Historical perspectives and contemporary concerns, Birmingham Law School and CAMBRA, 5 May 2011. 
  • “Methods of Moderation: Excavating responses to research misconduct” Staff Seminar, Birkbeck School of Law, University of London, 23 February 2011.
  • “Excavating Methods of Moderation: Responses to Scientific Fraud in Technology, Law, and the Media” ESRC Seminar Rhetorics of Moderation: Expertise and the Media, University of Nottingham, 7 January 2011.
  • “Governing Like Scientists,” Mission Creep: The Unintended Effects of Biotechnologies Workshop, Universitat Luzern. Switzerland, 9 October 2010,