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Verdicts & Settlements

Duke to Pay $112.5 Million in Research Fraud Settlement

— March 25, 2019

Additionally, whistleblower Joseph Thomas is expected to pocket approximately $33 million.

Duke University will pay the U.S. government some $112.5 million to settle accusations that it submitted fraudulent research data to win federal research grants.

The settlement, reports National Public Radio, will also award $33.75 million to Joseph Thomas, the whistleblower who broke the case as a former Duke employee.

Thomas, who NPR says worked as a data analyst for Duke, sued the university on behalf of the federal government, claiming a researcher intentionally spoofed data in order to win grants from the National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency.

Most of the grants contributed to studies gauging the lung function and performance of mice. A lawsuit filed by the Justice Department stated that “between 2006 and 2018, Duke knowingly submitted and caused to be submitted” falsified claims intended to extract funds from unwitting bureaucracies. However, that same suit acknowledges that a settlement doesn’t mean the school’s administration is necessarily liable.

According to Duke, it only “discovered the possible research misconduct in 2013 after [a] technician was fired for embezzling money from the university.”

Rubber-banded rolls of hundred-dollar bills; image by Pictures of Money, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
Rubber-banded rolls of hundred-dollar bills; image by Pictures of Money, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

In a statement made to NPR, Thomas said he sued due not only to the deception’s breadth but out of concern the school wasn’t being transparent.

“Duke’s administration and researchers [had to face] the reality that seven years of data were false or unreliable,” Thomas said.

Duke President Vincent E. Price has since defended the university’s reputation, saying it endeavors to meet the highest standards of ethics.

“When individuals fail to uphold those standards,” Price said, “and those who are aware of possible wrongdoing fail to report it, as happened in this case, we must accept responsibility, acknowledge that our processes for identifying and preventing misconduct did not work, and take steps to improve.”

Price also suggested that the fraud was localized and should not be taken as indicative or reflective of trend.

“This settlement, which results primarily from willful misconduct that took place in one laboratory, but which affected the work of many more researchers, should not diminish the life-changing and life-saving work that takes place every day at Duke,” Price said. “Our difficulties in ferreting out and ending such misconduct remind us that important work remains to be done.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education adds that the scandal resulted in the retraction of at least a dozen scientific papers published by researchers involved with, intentionally or incidentally, fraud.

Price has pledged a heightened commitment to ensuring integrity in academia and research. To that end, Duke has appointed an associate vice provost and vice dean, Geeta Swamy, and required that individual departments prepare and submit accountability plans.


Duke to Pay $112.5 Million to Settle Scientific-Misconduct Lawsuit

Duke University settles research misconduct lawsuit for $112.5 million

Duke Whistleblower Gets More Than $33 Million In Research Fraud Settlement

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