Research Misconduct

A major part of many careers in academia is the access to federally- and university-backed research. These opportunities might be the reason an academic or scientist chose their line of work in the first place. When accusations of research misconduct arise, these individuals — often considered among the best in their respective fields — face the prospect of professional and personal destruction.

In science and academia, your reputation is arguably your most valuable asset. It is the currency that you use to gain funding for projects, become tenured, or move to a more prestigious university. Allegations of research misconduct are not something to approach lightly. To give yourself the best chance at a return to normalcy, consider hiring an experienced attorney-advisor as soon as you become aware of the accusation.

What Is Research Misconduct?

Federal regulations (42 CFR § 93.103) classify research misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, promoting, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.” Breaking it down further:

  • Fabrication — making up figures, data points, or results
  • Falsification — manipulation of data or results, including changes and omissions
  • Plagiarism — copying another person's research or ideas

Intent plays a critical role in research misconduct cases. In order to qualify as misconduct, the offending researcher must participate in the disallowed practice deliberately. The alleged misconduct must also diverge significantly from standard research practices. Cases are judged based on a preponderance of evidence — meaning that guilt can be declared as long as there is a greater than 50% chance that the allegations are true.

In addition, many institutions may establish their own research policies that must be followed on top of federal regulations. Before beginning any research, it is important to understand the rules at your institution to avoid misconduct allegations.

What Types of Research Are Subject to Misconduct Allegations?

“Research” itself is a loosely defined concept. In general, it is a structured investigation whose results (or lack thereof) are meant to contribute to the world's collective knowledge. There are no budgetary or size qualifications. A small study could be considered research, as could a large experiment and everything in between. If your research was conducted using federal grants or funds, you may be more heavily scrutinized. The same goes for studies involving human subjects. Ultimately, any kind of faculty research can be ripe for misconduct allegations.

The ambiguity surrounding the specific definition of research can sometimes work in favor of those accused of research misconduct. If what you were doing wasn't technically research, how can it be research misconduct? Individual universities may also have differing opinions on what exactly constitutes research. An attorney-advisor with expert knowledge of your institution's guidelines can tell you if that is a defense strategy worth pursuing.

What Are the Consequences of Research Misconduct?

The most obvious repercussion of research misconduct is that you lose your university faculty position. If you are seeking tenure and/or a cozy retirement pension, misconduct accusations could derail that in a big way. If you are allowed to remain employed by the institution, you could see a loss of federal funding. There is also a chance that any research you do moving forward will be heavily supervised, which could be extremely frustrating for those used to conducting research in a certain way.

A potentially bigger blow is the damage research misconduct can do to your reputation in the academic or scientific community at large. In academic fields, credibility is crucial. A misconduct offense can prove to have dire effects on your future career opportunities — many colleges will not want the risk and bad publicity associated with hiring a professor with misconduct in their history.

Institutions are very careful about their public image. An academic or scientific research misconduct scandal can call into question past and future studies, rendering the entire university's work suspect. Because of this, you may find that your university is not behind you throughout the investigation. They might even attempt to fire you before the allegations have been resolved, just to distance themselves as much as possible from the look of impropriety. This is one of the many reasons to retain an experienced attorney-advisor. You need somebody that you can count on to advocate on your behalf during the investigatory proceedings.

You've Been Accused of Research Misconduct — What Should You Do?

When you are accused of research misconduct, your entire professional life is called into question. It is a necessity to have capable legal representation arguing your innocence. Depending on your position, you may be facing several proceedings at once.

The most basic hurdle an accused researcher must clear is the research misconduct allegations themselves. Accused professors, faculty, and/or university-employed scientists will have the opportunity to defend themselves by presenting exculpatory evidence. The validity of future proceedings hinges on the result of this one, so it's extra important to approach it with an attorney-advisor on your side.

Your legal representation may utilize a number of defense strategies to assist the accused during this proceeding, such as arguing the researcher's ignorance of the rules. However, it is only after reviewing the case and the institution's specific research guidelines that your attorney-advisor can organize the best defense for your individual circumstances.

If these hearings result in a finding of misconduct, an accused faculty researcher is now open to further proceedings. A professor with tenure may face another hearing to decide whether they should be stripped of their tenure. If the research was conducted using federal funding, accused researchers may find themselves in front of the United States Office of Research Integrity with potential criminal charges.

Retain the Lento Law Firm for Research Misconduct Cases

The complicated regulations of research integrity make these cases tricky to navigate without the help of an expert.

Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced attorney-advisor who specializes in defending professors and other faculty against research misconduct allegations. He understands that careers in higher education are only achieved through years of hard work. Don't let accusations of research misconduct destroy that. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or via our online form to discuss your case.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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