Former University of Kansas researcher who plagiarized Harvard prof banned from Federal funding for two years

Rakesh Srivastava

A researcher fired from the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) in 2014 for plagiarizing the work of a Harvard scientist has been barred from receiving Federal U.S. funding for two years.

The sanctions come three years after the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) tried to impose a three-year ban on funding for Rakesh Srivastava, who appealed the move. In September of this year, Department of Health and Human Services  administrative law judge Keith Sickendick recommended a two-year sanction.

In his decision, Sickendick noted that there was no evidence that Srivastava had engaged in research misconduct other than in this incident, and that he denied adding the plagiarized passages to the grant application himself. (Srivastava, who had also worked at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, is last author on a 2002 retraction from the Journal of Biological Chemistry for plagiarism, but it is unclear who was responsible.)

ORI tells Retraction Watch that it is “pleased that the ALJ upheld its findings.

An ‘Eminent Scholar’

Srivastava — along with his wife, Sharmila Shankar — joined KUMC in 2009 to great fanfare:

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has recruited two researchers that bring with them a total of $3 million in National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding. These research dollars will help achieve the critical requirement of $11 million in total NCI grant funding needed to apply for designation as a Cancer Center.

Srivastava was also named an “Eminent Scholar.” But in October 2012, the ORI received an allegation that Srivastava had committed plagiarism, and the agency forwarded the allegation to KUMC, whose investigation confirmed, according to court documents, that

Srivastava had plagiarized the work of a Harvard Medical School doctor in an attempt to obtain grant money. The plagiarism was discovered when Dr. Srivastava submitted the plagiarized grant proposal to the National Institute of Health (NIH) after the Harvard Medical School doctor had already submitted her grant proposal to the NIH.

In a June 2012 grant application to NIH, Srivastava had plagiarized an October 2011 grant application by Harvard’s Marcia Haigis.

KUMC told Srivastava on July 3, 2014 that he would be fired. He appealed the decision, but lost. He and Shankar — who was demoted for other reasons, and then had her position eliminated — sued KUMC in February 2016, claiming breach of contract and that their terminations had been retaliation because they had

registered express and repeated expressions of concern to individuals in positions of supervision and/or authority over [their] unlawful 5 activities surrounding the grant funds [they] oversaw, which activities included the improper accounting of funds utilized under the grant(s) at issue.

That suit was ultimately unsuccessful.

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15 thoughts on “Former University of Kansas researcher who plagiarized Harvard prof banned from Federal funding for two years”

    1. I hear you, but members of Congress (from both parties) will keep spending taxpayer funds on any program that gets them votes. Difficult to see how this gravy train can be stopped. Even when faced with a severe financial crisis, Congress is incentivized to spend more not less (amid cries to “do something”), and as the proportion of Federal spending on “science” is miniscule compared to total spending, there’s zero appetite to change. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  1. Only two years ? If anybody commiting “misconduct” was banned for ever , this kind of shenanigans would stop overnight !!!

    1. The ALJ’s report explains why only two years: https://ori.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/2018-11/306283_C-15-3830%20RECOMMENDED%20DECISION_20180905113327.pdf.

      In short, the case was resolved at summary judgment, so only undisputed facts could be used to determine the remedial actions. If the government wished to argue for a longer suspension, they could have requested a hearing to present the case and allow the defendant to present his counter-arguments, then the ALJ could consider the longer suspension.

  2. Srivastava submitted his grant application to NIH in June 2012, and was found to have plagiarized an Oct 2011 application by Haigis. Was there any information on how he managed to obtain the Haigis document? Presumably NIH doesn’t place these applications in a public place. If he saw the application because he was a referee, it seems particularly dumb to then make a similar application to the same agency a few months later.

  3. There are plenty of problems with academic science, but getting rid of anybody who committs any kind of fraud and deadwood faculty who refuse to retire despite not bringing in grant money in decades would probably free up more money to go where it needs to go: grad student and post doc salaries

    1. I’m firmly in agreement with part of your comment: fraudsters must go. I’d go further: they should face the same jeopardy as any other fraudsters. But I think it’s a mistake to equate faculty value, productivity, and scholarship with grant dollars. It plays into the administrators’ increasingly commercial, monetized view of academia. It cheapens the academy. It’s also the root of motivation for research misconduct (or one of the roots).

      There are many reasons to retain unfunded faculty. The good ones, that is.

      1. Its not unfunded faculty who actually commit fraud. Its other way round indeed in most of the cases. Science, especially biomedical research is very complex and most of the time hypotheses driven research do not bring the desired results, leading to less/no publications which leads to no funding, it a vicious cycle. Therefore, some smart ones with lot of ambition do allow/pressurize their students/postdocs to commit different sort of immoral acts including cooking up data to write papers and grant applications so as they could bring more federal funding. Funding ensures one’s job as well as strengthens their position in the University where more emphasis is given on a faculty’s “productivity”. There needs to be a study to support this, but there is clear trend of more stable/reputed/funded faculty being involved in more corrupt practices.

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