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Articles on Law, Science, and Engineering

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


The Facts of the Abbs Case

"In 1987, a committee of the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted an inquiry into allegations that plaintiff Abbs had engaged in scientific misconduct, specifically, that he had published certain curves in the journal Neurology that were traced from curves he had published previously, rather than being from two different patients as plaintiff represented. The university committee determined there was no need for a formal investigation into the allegations of scientific misconduct against Abbs and so advised NIH's Office of Extramural Research, in June 1987. . . . The Office of Extramural Research conducted additional inquiries into the Abbs matter and obtained a report from a panel of experts questioning the University of Wisconsin-Madison's prior determination that the allegations against Abbs did not warrant a formal investigation."

"On January 12, 1990, the Acting Director of the Office of Scientific Inquiry advised plaintiff Abbs that his name and the fact that he was the subject of an investigation had been entered in the Public Health Service ALERT system, which serves to communicate information about investigations and final determinations of misconduct to all Public Health Service agencies."

"On February 2, 1990, the Acting Director of the Office of Scientific Inquiry advised plaintiff Abbs that it was pursuing a formal investigation to determine whether he had engaged in scientific misconduct. As part of the investigation of plaintiff Abbs's alleged misconduct, a fact-gathering Office of Scientific Inquiry team met with Abbs to conduct an interview and afford him an opportunity to present additional information. On the advice of counsel, Abbs terminated the interview when he was informed he would not be allowed to be present during interviews of other witnesses and would not have complete access to the Office of Scientific Inquiry investigatory file. On a finding of misconduct, the NIH has the authority to suspend existing grants, seek reimbursement for funds already paid, and restrict or suspend an individual researcher from competition for future grants and federal contracts."

This threat, combined with the stigma of being put in the ALERT system, led Professor Abbs and the Board to sue to halt this investigation and remove Abbs's name from the ALERT system. They also sought to have the court force the NIH to withdraw and reformulate its regulations on scientific misconduct.

Next -- The Problem of Standing


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