Duke University is in big trouble. A whistleblower exposed a culture of academic corruption. The federal suit accuses researchers William Foster and Erin Potts-Kants of fabricating data and falsifying reports as a means to collect grant money from various government agencies. This investigation began when Potts-Kants pled guilty to embezzlement.
Then Potts-Kant’s troubles got worse. Duke officials took a closer look at her work and didn’t like what they saw. Fifteen of her papers, mostly dealing with pulmonary biology, have now been retracted, with many notices citing “unreliable” data. Several others have been modified with either partial retractions, expressions of concern, or corrections. And last month, a U.S. district court unsealed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former colleague of Potts-Kant. If successful, the suit—brought under the federal False Claims Act (FCA)—could force Duke to return to the government up to three times the amount of any ill-gotten funds, and produce a multimillion-dollar payout to the whistleblower.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine how many government grants have financed fraudulent papers propelling this man-made global warming nonsense? However, if you believe public universities will pay for their malfeasance, think again.
Relatively few of these cases have targeted research universities (see box, below); many allege fraud in health care or military programs. But that's changing. The FCA "is increasingly being used to target alleged fraud in a diverse array of industries, including research and academia," says attorney Suzanne Jaffe Bloom of Winston & Strawn LLP in New York City. Although recent court rulings suggest public universities may have some protection from qui tam suits because they are government entities, private institutions do not. Eleven private universities, including Duke, are among the top 25 recipients of federal funding for academic science over the past decade.
It’s good to be the government.