Trial By Error: My Latest Letter To Bristol’s Legal Department




By David Tuller, DrPH

Today I sent the following e-mail to Sue Paterson, director of legal services at Bristol University. I cc-d several other people on the e-mail.


Dear Ms Paterson—

Earlier this month, I sent you an e-mail to ask, among other questions, when Bristol University plans to finish its investigation of studies that exempted themselves from ethical review as “service evaluation”–all based on a single research ethics committee letter. As you know, I have documented that at least 11 studies have cited this letter, which appeared to have nothing to do with any of them.

Perhaps the most problematic example is a study related to school absence, which was published by BMJ Open in 2011. This study included in-person interviews with minors—a data collection method that clearly identifies it as “research” requiring ethical review and not “service evaluation” that is exempt from such oversight. Because it appeared no one involved took the issue seriously, I brought the matter to the attention of the National Health Service’s Health Research Authority, which requested Bristol to conduct an “independent” review of the matter.


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