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Scientific Misconduct: Part 2 - What are your Constitutional rights?

By Edward P. Richards and Charles Walter, 11 IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine #1, pg. 73 (March 1992).

This series of articles discusses the Federal statutes and regulations on scientific misconduct, the effects of these laws on researchers, and how to manage the risk of scientific misconduct. These laws apply to everyone who receives federal funding or works for an institution that receives federal funding. Persons who are investigated may lose substantial time from their research, incur large legal fees, be subjected to public humiliation, and see their careers blighted. Persons who are found to have violated their provisions can be banned from receiving federal funds and are subject to criminal prosecution. Such threats cause researchers to cry out for due process protection. Yet, as we will discuss in later articles, there are circumstances when "due process" increases delays, expenses, and the ultimate harm to those who are investigated.

The objective of recent litigation brought by Professor James H. Abbs and the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin was to overturn a misconduct investigation by the Office of Extramural Research of the NIH, the predecessor agency to the current Office of Scientific Inquiry. While the plaintiffs did force the promulgation of the Misconduct in Science regulations that were reviewed in Part 1 of this series, the court refused to halt the investigation. The Abbs case clearly delineates and circumscribes the rights of researchers and their institutions.

This case is reported at 756 F.Supp. 1172 (W.D.Wis. 1990) and is the source for the quoted text in this article. While laypersons often believe legal opinions to be neutral and dispassionate, this is seldom the case. We believe the hostile tone of this opinion is as significant as its content. When possible, we use the court's own words to best convey this tone.


The Facts of the Abbs Case
The Problem of Standing
Property Interests
Equal Protection and Liberty Interests

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