Civil War-era law used to punish scientific fraudsters

Duke University is at the heart of a potentially blockbuster lawsuit involving three of its scientists. The suit is the latest attempt to use a 19th-century law for relatively new purposes: putting universities on the hook for grant money that went to researchers found guilty of fraud, write Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky for Stat News.

The case, which is being brought under the False Claims Act, centres on allegations that researchers at Duke used faked data to win tens of millions of dollars in federal funding. Although the principal in the fraud, Erin Potts-Kant, has had 16 papers retracted and has admitted faking her data, and Duke has acknowledged that it knew Potts-Kant was cooking the books, what remains unclear is how much the university knew and when it knew it.

So far, the suit – which is being brought by Joseph Thomas, a former colleague of Potts-Kant – has survived several motions to dismiss and is now in the discovery phase. The False Claims Act, or ‘Lincoln Law’, is a federal statute with roots in the Civil War, as the Union tried to prevent materiel suppliers from bilking the government. To encourage whistleblowers, the law provides for a 30% payout to people who bring graft to the attention of prosecutors, as well as treble damages for the government.
Full report on the Stat site