Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

CrossFit gym owner sues Ohio State, says fraudulent data led to $273 million in NIH grants

with 5 comments

Mitch Potterf

Mitch Potterf

In an lawsuit unsealed yesterday, the owner of a CrossFit gym is suing Ohio State University (OSU) under the False Claims Act, claiming that researchers faked data in a university-based study involving his gym — and that OSU used the study to win $273 million in Federal grants.

The suit, originally filed in February in the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio by Mitch Potterf, owner of a Columbus, Ohio CrossFit, alleges that a 2013 paper by OSU’s Steven Devor and colleagues falsely reported that nine subjects had dropped out of the study because of “overuse or injury.” The study, we should note, concluded that CrossFit is a useful form of exercise. It has been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

As John Thomas, an attorney who handles False Claims Act cases, explained in a Retraction Watch guest post in March:

The False Claims Act (FCA), popularly known as the Lincoln Law, is one alternative approach for a whistleblower to consider. The FCA allows a private citizen whistleblower, or “relator,” to file a lawsuit – known as a “qui tam” action — on behalf of the Federal government to recover funds that were paid as a result of fraud. The penalties for violators are formidable: the government is entitled to treble damages and civil penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 per false claim. By law, the relator may be entitled to as much as 30% of the government’s recovery.

As first reported by Law360 yesterday, the complaint was unsealed earlier this week because the government declined to intervene. That move makes the likelihood of success quite low, if past experience is any indicator. False Claims Act cases also typically include more detailed claims than this one.

The original complaint also tries to link the success of every one of OSU’s Federal grants in 2012 and 2013 to these allegedly fraudulent findings. That’s where the $273 million figure comes from. But that also seems like a stretch.

Reached by Retraction Watch, both OSU and Potterf declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Potterf’s lawsuit is one of at least three filed over the OSU study. In July of last year, we reported on one in which CrossFit is suing the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), which publishes the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, where the OSU study appeared. CrossFit — which considers the NSCA a competitor — wants compensation for alleged damages, and also for the journal to retract the paper. Potterf and his gym are also requesting the same from the authors of the OSU study and the NSCA in another lawsuit.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

May 8th, 2015 at 9:30 am

Comments
  • Theresa Defino May 8, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Great reporting. Yes, HUGE stretch and who wins? The $awyers.

    • herr doktor bimler May 8, 2015 at 7:21 pm

      HUGE stretch
      There’s probably an exercise machine for that.

  • Russell berger May 8, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Thomson Scientific claims the study in question has been cited twice, but Google scholar claims 50. I spent 5 minutes checking the first ten studies Google Scholar claims cite the OSU study. All of them seem perfectly legitimate.

    • Sebastian Kurscheid May 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Well, I’ve spent one minute looking at the URLs of the first ten studies, and in addition to the two Thomson WoK citations, wordpress.com came up three times, researchgate.net twice and the others seem to be a collection of University library pages, so most likely thesis papers…

      • Marco May 11, 2015 at 5:14 am

        There are actually a few more journals in the list (at least one of the researchgate hits is to a journal paper – and therefore features twice on the list). There are just not many journals that also feature in WoK. For example, “American Journal of Sports Science and Medicine” (likely predatory open access publisher) or Revista Brasileira de Ciência e Movimento, which is a Brazilian journal, are unlikely to ever make it into WoK.

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