Newly Elected European Society Of Cardiology President Co-Authored Hundreds Of Papers With Don Poldermans

The ESC today announced that Jeroen Bax, a Dutch cardiologist, will serve as the group’s President Elect for the next two years before becoming President starting in 2016. Bax is a professor of cardiology at Leiden University Medical Center.

Bax is also known for his very close collaboration with Don Poldermans, the disgraced Dutch researcher who has been accused of significant and multiple examples of scientific misconduct. The Poldermans case has led to the retraction of several important papers and the expectation that many more will ultimately be retracted. The case created an additional sensation when it was found that ESC guidelines on perioperative use of beta blockers relied heavily on trials authored by Poldermans– and Bax– leading to controversy, recriminations, and a complete revision of the guideline. In addition, Bax and Poldermans were both co-authors of the guideline. Further, Poldermans was the chair of the writing committee and Bax was the chair of the entire ESC Cardiology Practice Guidelines Committee.

The case is still far from settled, since a new round of accusations was launched just last week in TheBMJ (additional coverage on TheHeart.Org). The new charges also bring a new focus on flaws and inconsistencies in the seminal 1999 New England Journal of Medicine publication of the first DECREASE study, which dramatically elevated the careers of its authors, including both Poldermans and Bax.

According to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, Poldermans and Bax were co-authors of 638 papers. That number needs to be adjusted downwards because it includes simultaneous multiple publication of guidelines, but it is certain that the two were co-authors on many hundreds of papers. 22 of the papers have been cited at least 100 times while the 1999 NEJM paper has been cited more than 800 times.

As I have previously reported, Bax’s relationship with Poldermans has been the subject of previous attention. A few weeks after the Poldermans affair became public, Leiden University Medical Center announced that it was conducting its own investigation specifically looking at “a professor who had published frequently” with Poldermans. Although no names were publicly disclosed, it subsequently became clear that the primary focus of the investigation was Bax.

LUMC completed its investigation in 2012 and concluded that no “scientists at the Leiden University Medical Centre [were] involved in the violation of academic integrity by” Poldermans. However, the investigation also expressed concern about the large number of papers co-authored with Poldermans by LUMC scientists.

A feature article in the Dutch language publication Medisch Contact provided a much more detailed portrait of Poldermans and fills in much of the background of the entire affair. The article outlines the rise and fall of Poldermans career, focusing especially on Poldermans’ close working relationship with Jeroen Bax and another Erasmus MC scientist, the biomedical statistician Eric Boersma. The three worked together on the original DECREASE study and on subsequent DECREASE studies. It was the conduct of these studies that formed the basis for the subsequent scandal.

When Bax became a full professor he expressed gratitude to Poldermans in his inaugural lecture. He even stated at the time that “although I was frequently asked to reduce cooperation [with Poldermans], I have never done so.” Later, Bax refused to explain this comment to Medisch Contact. In the lecture he expressed nothing but pride in his relationship with Poldermans: “Nowhere in Netherlands cardiology can one find such a great partnership as we have built.”

I have invited the ESC leadership and Professor Bax to respond and have pledged to publish in full their responses.

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