When you just have to say something, but don’t want to be slow-roasted alive by desperate and unprincipled colleagues:
So you want to be a whistleblower? A lawyer explains the process
One obvious way to report research misconduct is to follow internal institutional procedures. Most research institutions have a genuine interest in promoting good science and addressing misconduct. In some instances, however, a potential whistleblower may have legitimate reasons to believe that the institution will not address his/her concerns. This may be for a number of reasons, including institutional apathy, the professional standing of the individuals involved, or a desire to avoid bad publicity. In such cases, a whistleblower may need to consider other ways to report the research misconduct.
The False Claims Act (FCA), popularly known as the Lincoln Law, is one alternative approach for a whistleblower to consider. The FCA allows a private citizen whistleblower, or “relator,” to file a lawsuit – known as a “qui tam” action — on behalf of the Federal government to recover funds that were paid as a result of fraud. The penalties for violators are formidable: the government is entitled to treble damages and civil penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 per false claim. By law, the relator may be entitled to as much as 30% of the government’s recovery. More.
That could tide one over until another research job is found.
Pursuing a scientific whistleblower case through the FCA has some advantages.
Part 2: So you want to be a whistleblower? Part II
Be forewarned: FCA cases involving scientific grants involve many complex issues, and there have not been more than a handful (there have been hundreds of grant cases that do not necessarily involve scientific research, however). While settlements and case results are public, the Department of Justice does not publish detailed statistics on scientific grant cases; therefore, it is difficult to estimate the “success ratio” of these cases. I describe three anecdotal cases where the relator – the person who brought the claim – was successful. So while there are many challenges with bringing a FCA case, it is feasible given the right set of facts and circumstances. … More.
Part 3: So you want to be a whistleblower? Part III
Next, the government will decide whether to “intervene.” If the government intervenes, it takes control of the case, files an intervention complaint, serves the lawsuit on the defendant, and moves forward with litigation. If you are the relator, this is very good news — in cases where the government intervenes, it “wins” 95% of the time, mostly ending in a favorable settlement. If the government declines to intervene, the relator may pursue the case on his own, but he faces an uphill battle, with a success rate of approximately 5% from 1986 to 2010. (Relators’ success rates in declined cases have improved slightly in recent years, however.)
Once the case is in active litigation, it will look more like a normal civil lawsuit – with the normal discovery process, motions for summary judgment, and eventually trial. Most FCA cases settle. One key aspect of this process is determining what money the government should recover, and the relator’s share. More.
See also: Retraction Watch
If peer review is working, why all the retractions?
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