REFUSAL TO PRODUCE DATA TO SUBSTANTIATE CLAIM IN SCIENTIFIC PAPER IS CHALLENGED

Sir, the Veterinary Record Case Report ‘Scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) confirms shooting of a hen harrier (Circus cyaneus)’ (Hopkins TC, Peniche G, Murphy S, et al. Vet Rec Case Rep 3:e000241. doi:10.1136/vetreccr-2015-000241) states that “there have been 45 confirmed incidents of shooting of hen harriers since records began (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds unpublished data)”. Whilst not disputing that figure, it is one that is considerably higher than previously believed, with the RSPB’s published figures showing the confirmed shooting of just 14 hen harriers. If there is other unpublished evidence that there are 45 confirmed incidents of shooting, then it is our belief that the authors of the paper must be able to support such a serious claim. However, despite repeated requests, the RSPB has refused to provide the details of these incidents, and the Countryside Alliance remains perplexed as to what possible grounds there could be for such a refusal. A mere assurance that the data is accurate, whilst refusing to produce it, is insufficient to satisfy its reliability, and the scientific rigour of the report in which it has been published. In raising these concerns with the lead author of the report, we were informed that because the figure had been referred to as unpublished, that would explain why it had not been possible to source the information with which to verify it, and in the circumstances he was satisfied with the reliability of the data provided. We firmly remain of the opinion that the data to back up this claim, and published in a scientific paper, should be made publicly available to those reading it.

Adrian Blackmore
Countryside Alliance