Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘Legal Threats’ Category

NY court: Cornell faces being held in contempt after denying physics professor tenure (twice)

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Mukund Vengalattore

Cornell University and a high-powered dean at the school face being held in contempt of court in a case stemming from their decision to deny tenure to a physics professor.

Assistant professor Mukund Vengalattore told Retraction Watch he believes the school and the dean are violating a judge’s order instructing them to completely redo his tenure review process. Neither the university nor the dean has done any of the things the judge asked them to do, and even suspended his paycheck for the first two weeks of June, he said.

In 2014 Gretchen Ritter, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, denied Vengalattore tenure, citing a weak publication record, an inability to accept advice from colleagues, and a poor group dynamic fostered in his lab [Exhibit C in this court document]. But on appeal, a faculty panel found that the review process had been affected by sexual misconduct allegations from a former graduate student.  Vengalattore told Retraction Watch the allegations were “completely false.”

However, last year, Ritter again denied Vengalattore tenure, a decision backed by Cornell’s provost, Michael Kotlikoff. As first reported by Inside Higher Ed in May, Vengalattore then took Cornell and Ritter to court. Judge Richard Rich ruled on that case in November, finding that the alleged misconduct “tainted” the process and that the school had deviated from its established procedures in a “necessary” but “secretive” way, denying Vengalattore due process:

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Written by Andrew P. Han

June 27th, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Following outcry, American Psychological Association “refocuses” takedown notice program

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After a deluge of protests from researchers who received notices from the American Psychological Association (APA) to remove papers from their websites, the publisher announced it will shift its focus to commercial sites.

Earlier this week, researchers took to Twitter to lament the takedown notices they had received from the APA; one posted the letter in place of his paper. The letters were part of a pilot program by the APA to remove “unauthorized online postings of APA journal articles.”

That program has now taken a bit of a turn. In a release yesterday, the APA says that:

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Written by Alison McCook

June 16th, 2017 at 10:39 am

Career derailed, ex-prof to sue Montana State for wrongful termination

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Ryan Jones. Credit: Kelly Gorham/MSU

A former assistant professor at Montana State University who was fired last year is planning to sue the school for defamation, wrongful termination, and violation of due process.

Ryan Jones, a microbiologist, was forced to leave his tenure-track position — which was technically a one-year contract, so could be terminated before he had the opportunity to apply for tenure. The case highlights the insecurity of non-tenured academic jobs, an issue the planned suit is tackling head on. In addition to monetary damages, the lawsuit seeks to void all one-year contracts at Montana State, which can be terminated for any reason — a system that exists elsewhere in academia.

Jones told Retraction Watch that he believes he was forced out based on what he alleges are cooked-up charges of research misconduct — specifically, he brought back insect samples from the Amazon but didn’t fill out a permit:

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Written by Andrew P. Han

June 15th, 2017 at 10:45 am

Researchers protest publisher’s orders to remove papers from their websites

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Researchers are protesting orders from the American Psychological Association to remove links to papers from their websites.

Multiple researchers took to Twitter recently to lament the takedown notices they’ve received from the APA; one posted the letter in place of the link to his paper. According to the APA, the letters are part of a pilot program to “monitor and seek removal of unauthorized online postings of APA journal articles.”

The notices cite misuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which enables internet users to protect their own content. But it can be heavily abused by people who file false copyright infringement claims to remove content they don’t like from the internet. (We have even been the target of such attempts.)

According to the letter posted by Nathaniel Daw at Princeton University, the APA says:

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Written by Alison McCook

June 14th, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Journal retracts Ohio State CrossFit study at center of lawsuits

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The fallout continues for a study conducted at a local CrossFit gym by researchers at The Ohio State University. First it was corrected, now it’s been retracted, and it continues to be the basis of litigation against both the authors and the publisher.

Editors at the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research have decided to pull the 2013 study after learning that the research protocol had not been approved by Ohio State’s institutional review board (IRB).

Over the past few years, the study has spawned several lawsuits, including a defamation suit brought by gym owner Mitch Potterf against Ohio State that landed him a six-figure settlement, as well as an ongoing suit by Potterf against the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA, which publishes the journal). The CrossFit brand has also sued the NSCA. [See update at end of post for more on that case.]

An NSCA statement issued May 30 describes what happened: Read the rest of this entry »

Would-be Johns Hopkins whistleblower loses appeal in case involving Nature retraction

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A former researcher at Johns Hopkins who voiced concerns about a now-retracted paper in Nature has lost another bid for whistleblower protection.

Daniel Yuan, a longtime statistician for former Hopkins yeast geneticist Jef Boeke, was dismissed in 2011, after he’d spent years raising concerns about research coming out of the lab. Yuan’s criticisms, which continued after he stopped working for Boeke, peaked in 2012 after Boeke and former labmate Yu-li Lin published paper in Nature. Later that year, Lin was found dead in his lab, a suspected suicide. In 2013, the paper was retracted, citing an inability to reproduce the main conclusions. 

Since 2013, Yuan has pursued a wrongful termination lawsuit, claiming that federal regulations surrounding scientific misconduct afforded him protection from retaliation.

In late March, Maryland’s highest court ruled against Yuan, saying that those misconduct regulations are “too vague” to offer cover to employees claiming whistleblower protection. According to lawyers we consulted, the decision could make it harder for would-be whistleblowers to fight retaliation, while also giving institutions more leeway to handle these issues on their own.

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Written by Andrew P. Han

May 25th, 2017 at 11:50 am

Ex-PhD candidate sues advisor, school: Colorado prof “poisoned the well” after research dispute

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A former University of Colorado Boulder graduate student is suing his ex-advisor for defamation after being shooed out midway through his doctoral program.

Robert Roscow says he had to leave CU Boulder’s department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO) in the fall of 2016 with only a master’s degree after fish evolution researcher David Stock dropped him as a student. Their relationship deteriorated following a dispute about whether another student should perform experiments Roscow considered to be essential to his dissertation.

Once dropped, Roscow was offered the chance to find another advisor, but never did. In his complaint, filed April 25 in Boulder County District Court, Roscow claims he has evidence that Stock “poisoned the well” by badmouthing him in email and in person to other professors, ultimately preventing Roscow from completing his degree.

As first reported by BusinessDen, Roscow is also suing CU Boulder for a breach of contract and for failing to “provide [him] with the reasonable opportunity to pursue his PhD,” among other allegations. 

CU Boulder declined to elaborate on the case. Chief Spokesperson Ryan Huff told us:

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Written by Andrew P. Han

May 22nd, 2017 at 11:35 am

Could bogus scientific results be considered false advertising?

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Could a scientific paper ever be considered an advertisement?

That was the question posed to a Tokyo court, in a criminal case where prosecutors argued — at the behest of Japan’s ministry of health — that a peer-reviewed paper containing faked data should be considered “fraudulent or exaggerated advertising” under that country’s laws.

In that case, however, the argument didn’t work. In March, the court decided that a fraudulent paper was not false advertising, allowing a pharmaceutical researcher at a Novartis subsidiary to escape jail time. The decision also cleared Novartis of charges and helped the company avoid a ¥4 million ($35,373 USD) fine.

According to an article in The Japan Times, the presiding judge Yasuo Tsujikawa said:

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Written by Andrew P. Han

May 17th, 2017 at 11:40 am

Ecologist loses appeal for whistleblower protection

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A top federal U.S. court has confirmed a decision by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to deny federal whistleblower protection to an ecologist who was fired after accusing a colleague of fraud.

After initially forcing NSF to more clearly explain its decision, the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has agreed with the conclusions of NSF’s updated investigation, denying former Kansas State University researcher Joseph Craine’s appeal.

Attorney Paul Thaler, who has handled cases involving scientific misconduct (but was not involved with this one), told Retraction Watch that the latest decision appears to be the end of a cautionary tale of how not to report misconduct.

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Written by Andrew P. Han

May 5th, 2017 at 11:00 am

$200M research misconduct case against Duke moving forward, as judge denies motion to dismiss

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A Federal U.S. court in North Carolina has denied a motion to dismiss a major lawsuit filed against Duke University and two former employees, allowing the case to go forward.

Last year, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Virginia unsealed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by another former employee at Duke against the university, a biologist and her former supervisor, alleging they included fraudulent data in applications and reports involving more than 60 grants. The total amount: $200 million. If successful, Duke may have to refund three times the amount of allegedly ill-gotten gains, and the whistleblower could himself receive millions.

The researcher, Erin Potts-Kant, her supervisor William Michael Foster, and Duke all filed motions to dismiss; this week, that motion was denied.

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Written by Alison McCook

April 28th, 2017 at 9:35 am