Dr Geoffrey Webb
Medicines Research Group
Department of Bioscience , School of Health, Sport and Bioscience
I have been at UEL for most of my working life. I have a BSc in Physiology and Biochemistry and a PhD from the University of Southampton. In 1986-7 I took a Nutrition MSc at King's College, London and obtained an MSc with distinction and won the Yudkin prize. In 1992, I spent a semester as visiting professor of human nutrition at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, USA. Between 1994 & 2002, I was a member of the editorial board of the British Journal of Nutrition. I have acted as external examiner at both undergraduate and PhD level. In the first half of my career at UEL, I was active in bench research in the fields of obesity and diabetes mainly using animal models of these conditions. In the latter part of my career I have focused my creative energies upon "desk research" involving writing and researching books, articles and reviews relating to aspects of diet, lifestyle and health. I wrote a monthly column about diet and health for the local newspaper, The Newham Recorder, for about three years. I have spent the last three years researching and writing a book about error and fraud in scientific research.
Areas Of Interest
In the late 1970s and 1980s I led an obesity research group using animal models of obesity. I supervised two successful PhDs during this period. Perhaps the most important achievement of this research group was to unequivocally confirm that mice become torpid when fasted and that torpor occurs without fasting in genetically obese (ob/ob) mice. We correctly predicted that humans with the same genetic defect would have normal thermoregulation and that theories of defective thermoregulation being a major cause of human obesity were probably incorrect.
Since the late 1980s, I have focused my creative energies into researching and writing books, monographs, academic reviews and critical essays which have been mainly related to aspects of nutrition and weight control. I have also written about several major scientific errors and their consequences, for example:
- The promotion of front sleeping for babies in the 1970s and early 1980s that led to a worldwide epidemic of cot deaths that caused tens or hundreds of thousands of extra cot deaths around the world.
- The almost unanimous belief (1950-1980) that the world was desperately short of protein and that protein malnutrition was the most important cause of worldwide malnutrition. Huge amounts of time effort and resources were expended in trying to solve this illusory problem.
- The belief that antioxidant supplements given to generally well-nourished people would increase life expectancy and reduce the levels of heart disease and cancer.
In my recent researches I have concluded that these error examples are symptomatic of a much more general problem with the credibility of much of the research that is published. Some writers have suggested that most of the research that is published is wrong and that up to 85% of research spending is wasted.
Finally I have prepared detailed case studies of many scientists who have committed research fraud and fabricated their data. Using these case studies I have tried to assess the damage caused by fraudulent research. I have also reviewed the measures that should prevent the publication of fraudulent data (protection), the ways in which fraudulent data is identified after publication (detection) and the way in which fraudulent data and fraudulent authors are dealt with after exposure (disinfection). Using the case studies, I have tried to assess the effectiveness of these measures in keeping the scientific literature free of fraudulent data..