Duke fraud case highlights financial risks for universities

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Science  02 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6303, pp. 977-978
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6303.977

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A whistleblower is accusing a former Duke University researcher, her former supervisor, and the university of including fraudulent data in applications and reports involving more than 60 grants worth some $200 million. 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. The Duke case "should scare all [academic] institutions around the country," says attorney Joel Androphy of Berg & Androphy in Houston, Texas, who specializes in false claims litigation. It appears to be one of the largest FCA suits ever to focus on research misconduct in academia, he says, and, if successful, could "open the floodgates" to other whistleblowing cases. Although relatively few FCA cases have targeted research universities, that's changing. And although recent court rulings suggest public universities may have some protection from FCA suits because they are government entities, private institutions do not. Eleven private universities, including Duke, are among the top 25 academic recipients of federal research dollars in recent years.

  • * Alison McCook is an editor at Retraction Watch based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This story was produced under a collaboration between Science and Retraction Watch