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Standard, Population & Customised fetal size charts 13 – The Intergrowth/WHO plagiarism controversy

September 18, 2019

Soon after the Intergrowth-21 charts were published, allegations of skullduggery appeared from WHO (click here). Rumours flew around, big money was involved, and the organisations employing each group of researchers, WHO and Oxford University, conducted enquiries. Eventually WHO referred Jose Villar and Stephen Kennedy, two of the leaders of the Intergrowth-21 group, to the UK General Medical Council (click here), who declined to investigate.

Supporters of WHO claimed that the two Intergrowth-21 authors had plagiarised a previous WHO protocol. Villar had been employed by WHO before he moved to Oxford, and Kennedy had been a member of a WHO expert group.

Defenders of Intergrowth-21 say that the idea of creating fetal growth standards was not only “obvious”, but had already been widely discussed in public long before either team set to work.

The full story has never been published, but the editor of the Lancet, who had seen both the WHO and Oxford reports, sided with the Intergrowth-21 group and concluded that at worst it was a matter of academic rivalry (click here).  His comment that the WHO enquiry was “disappointingly insubstantial” clearly stung WHO, who responded by publishing it here, the “report from reviewers”.  Judge for yourself. The WHO also took the opportunity to confirm that.

“WHO has never questioned the scientific validity of the research conducted and the papers produced by Oxford University (as published in the Lancet and other peer-reviewed journals)”.

Three supporters of the WHO allegations wrote a letter which added little (click here). The Oxford report, exonerating the Intergrowth-21 authors, remains unpublished. And there the matter rests.

The issue is long past. But it’s worth recalling, because advocates of alternatives occasionally allow the idea to get out that “There’s something fishy about the Intergrowth or WHO charts”. There is not. The allegations never included any scientific criticism of either. Rather the opposite. The idea of international fetal growth standards was so good, that academic rivals sought credit for it. This mattered once to the people involved, but not to the rest of us.

Next customised charts (click here).

Jim Thornton

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