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Scientific Misconduct: Part I - The Federal Rules

By Charles Walter, Ph.D., J.D. and Edward P. Richards, III, J.D., M.P.H., 10 IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine #4, pg. 69 (December 1991)

Few scientists and engineers can have escaped the spectacle of Representative Dingell's assault on the scientific research establishment. Irrespective of the merits of the cases against David Baltimore, Robert Gallo, and others, every researcher must recoil from the McCarthy style approach of the Congressional subcommittee that has set upon the scientists. Dr. Bernadine Healy, the new NIH director, was singled out for personal abuse when she questioned the objectivity of the NIH investigatory procedures.

It is unfortunate, but scientific fraud and misconduct make good headlines. Scientists are supposed to be figures of great integrity, people who are to be trusted because they deal in truth. A potentially dishonest scientist, especially a famous scientist, is an irresistible target for publicity seeking politicians and antiscientific advocacy groups who would see Draconian restrictions on scientific inquiry. Smearing scientists with accusations of fraud and misconduct also is a calculated political strategy to discredit scientific organizations who are seeking increased funding for scientific research.

This series of articles will discuss the Federal statutes and regulations on scientific misconduct, the effects of these laws on researchers, and how to avoid the appearance of misconduct. These laws apply to everyone who receives federal funding or works for an institution that receives federal funding. Persons who violate their provisions can be banned from receiving federal funds and are subject to criminal prosecution. Persons who are investigated can expect to lose substantial time from their research. They also can incur large legal fees, which their institutions may decline to pay. They may be humiliated and their careers blighted. Yet, as we will discuss in later articles, increasing the "due process" protections for persons accused of misconduct will only result in more delays, expense, and ultimate harm to those who are investigated.

This article presents the basic provisions of the Misconduct in Science regulations that were proposed by PHS on Thursday, June 13, 1991. These will be discussed in future articles and should be read and understood by every scientist and engineer who receives federal funding.


The Federal Regulations
NSF Guiding Principle
Dealing With Subjects of an Inquiry/Investigation
Dealing With Informants

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