We’ve written about Office of Inspector General investigations several times (see here and here and here). But there’s a small component of OIG investigations that relate to scientific research misconduct. This is the first of multiple posts about research misconduct investigations.
This series will explain how this particular investigative process works and offer some guidance about how to defend against those investigations.
The targets of research misconduct investigations are scientists and other researchers working at universities and other research institutions. Those scientists and researchers apply for federal funds for their work. If they win grants, then they use federal funds and report back to the government about the research.
This close nexus between private actors (the researchers) and billions of dollars of federal funds means that someone has to keep an eye out for fraud. This type of fraud has the gentler name of “research misconduct,” but the repercussions are still severe.
We’re talking about employment consequences, expulsion from federally-funded research for years, public shaming and, possibly, criminal charges.
When the government uncovers research misconduct, it does not hesitate to make that misconduct public. For example, every quarter, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) publishes a newsletter on its website. A prominent part of the newsletter is called “Research Misconduct Case Studies.” In that section, ORI describes in some detail its findings of misconduct against a federally-funded researcher. The researcher’s name is prominently featured in the article, along with the likely career-ending punishment imposed.
If you aren’t a researcher, you may be wondering: What is the ORI? How did it get so powerful?
You may also be wondering: Why is this a topic for a white-collar criminal defense blog?
Let’s start with the second question first.