Thursday, September 1, 2016

More research shenanigans, this time at Duke

Duke University is being sued under the False Claims Act, a US law that lets whistleblowers receive a percentage of recovered funds when they can prove that someone or some institution has defrauded the Federal Government. The suit arises from the activities of Erin Potts-Kant, a biologist who has pled guilty to embezzling $25,000 in research funds and also has had to retract or correct over a dozen papers due to "unreliable data".

I find it really interesting that almost all of the quotes Science uses refer to the dangers such lawsuits pose to research institutions:

The Duke case “should scare all [academic] institutions around the country,” says attorney Joel Androphy of Berg & Androphy in Houston, Texas, who specializes in false claims litigation. It appears to be one of the largest FCA suits ever to focus on research misconduct in academia, he says, and, if successful, could “open the floodgates” to other whistleblowing cases.

Really? Research fraud and misuse of grant money is so widespread that all academic institutions should worry? I think that is much more frightening than the prospect of whistleblowers collecting damages from research institutions. I actually think it would be a good thing if institutions were held responsible for looking the other way as long as the research money is flowing. Researchers who harrass their students, fake data, or defraud the government should not be protected. Universities should WANT to get rid of these bad actors. Maybe if they have to pay through the nose, they will.

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