Neuroscientist found to have faked grant applications loses gig as grant services consultant

Michael Miller

Would you hire someone found to have faked data on federal grant applications as a “grant services consultant?”

You may have been without knowing it, if you had gone to Washington, D.C.-based Strategic Health Care for help with your grants. There, you would have found Michael Miller — page removed today, more on that in a moment — whose bio described him as an “internationally known neuroscientist.”

He has more than 30 years of experience in obtaining federal support for his research and that of collaborators. This includes individual grants (R01′s and R03′s) and fellowships for himself and pre- and post-doctoral trainees from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), merit reviews and research career awards from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and support from private foundations. In addition, Dr. Miller successfully orchestrated and competed for a $9 million NIH center (P50) grant that coordinated research at five different institutions.

What Miller’s bio failed to mention was that in addition to successfully orchestrating and competing for that P50 grant, he was also found by the Office of Research Integrity to have falsified or fabricated data in the grant application. He did the same thing in three other NIH grants. His Strategic Health Care bio listed a few NIH grants — NIAAA, Experimental fetal alcohol syndrome: cerebral cortex (R01); and NIDR, Plasticity in the trigeminal/somatosensory system Program Project (P01) — although we haven’t confirmed whether either of of them was referenced by the ORI.

We contacted the firm’s senior partner earlier this week to ask about the circumstances of Miller’s employment. Today, we learned that Miller is no longer working for the firm:

We retained Mr. Miller’s services through a contract prior to the imposition of sanctions against him.  So, our review of his background and credentials did not reveal the pending action against him.  However, he failed to disclose this information to our firm.  His last project for us was completed shortly after sanctions were imposed.  While our review of this issue continues, we have removed Mr. Miller from our company website and we will not utilize his services.  We take these matters very seriously and appreciate you bringing them to our attention.

We’ve been following Miller’s case since we came across one of his two retractions early last year, and you can read all of our coverage here.

Miller, who neither admitted nor denied committing research misconduct, had a one-year exclusion from “contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government” beginning on February 6, 2012. It’s not clear whether consulting on grants would violate that exclusion, but it’s now been more than a year in any case.

18 thoughts on “Neuroscientist found to have faked grant applications loses gig as grant services consultant”

  1. It is said Miller is not working with them. Miller would have been highly successful to catch potential future fraudsters!!!

  2. I’d like to know the extent of the faking. There is pure fabrication and data massaging to please reviewers who at times are quite unreasonable and would only be happy if the research a researcher is trying to get funded had been already done!

    1. The link to the ORI summary of this case which can be found in the top article of this thread details “the extent of the faking”. It’s quite extensive (proper faking!) and also involves retractions.

  3. It’s interesting to read the “About Us” and “Achievements” sections of the SHC website. I’m not sure which is more annoying — that such organizations exist or that there’s a need for them.

    Notice that their individual projects (at least the ones they showcase) are in the range of a few hundred thousand to a few million. If they’re an established Washington lobbying/consulting group, we might make a wild guess that their usual fee is on the general order of $50,000. If these numbers are anywhere near right, the cost of the advocacy apparently needed to secure a grant of this size is becoming an interesting percentage of the grant itself.

  4. Interesting factoid especially for this blog — under NIH rules, you are not allowed to use NIH funds to write grants. The funds are for research, and your grant-writing time is supposed to be covered by other institutional sources. So whoever might have used Dr. Miller or others as grant-writing consultants would have had to pay their fees from other institutional funds, and not their prior or current grants.

    Grant consulting is likely to cost a few hundred dollars an hour at most, and individual grants could require a few hours at most. My guess is that they employ a number of scientists — retired, changed fields, or moonlighting research PIs — and pay them on a contract, per piece and by the hour basis. Grant writing is an art as well as science, and I’ve seen grants with good ideas sunk because the PI couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. The consultant’s job is to help the PI pitch his or her ideas in a way most likely to attract funding, given the research goals of the target institute and the probable membership of the review committees.

    They seem to have other businesses as well, and we don’t know what all Miller did for them, of course. But $50K to consult on an R01 or even a P50 doesn’t seem realistic. I’ve never seen a Dean who would cough up that much institutional money for a consultant.

      1. That could be in the ballpark. Certainly more reasonable than $50,000. Although I personally would not have paid that–to me, half that seems reasonable. But I’m pretty good at grant writing and don’t need high level help.

        I know my senior PI on a recent P50 application used a consultant, but I’m not privy to the details. We emailed her various drafts and she sent back comments on language, direction, etc. It was useful to point out where we used jargon or specialist terms (that we ourselves, being immersed, did not recognize) but I don’t think the consultant sent us any game-changers.

        (With paylines around 10% (and sometimes less) I don’t blame anyone for using consultants if they think they need an edge, provided they pay for them appropriately and don’t also fake up their data.)

    1. Many places blatantly violate this policy as all researchers are on “soft” money. That means that people have to use their grants to cover time spent writing grants (a lot!). Another way around it is to set your salary higher, so that you can pretend you are only covering 80% of it with your grants and that gives you 20% of your time to write grants. But in the end the numbers are the same. Institutions are stingy, and it is only when the NIH starts cracking down on this that they will provide some funds to cover people’s time spent writing grants.

  5. Nothing about my morning routine irritates me more than having to delete all the junk emails being sent to me by this cottage industry of so called grant-writing services and related “advisors.” I am convinced they have little to offer beyond inundating the inboxes of practicing scientists with nonsense designed to make us think we can pay them to have some competitive advantage in peer review. If this revelation helps to thin their ranks, I say a loud “good riddance.”

  6. Just to clarify a point mentioned at the end of the above article, if you read the ORI notice it states that he is still not allowed to serve in an advisory position for yet another 2 years. I assume that is a study section, not sure if this situation applies.

  7. Try googling “Michael W Miller” and take a look at the number of self-promoting blogs… very strange/sad. “In the study of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Michael W. Miller is a towering figure.” “Neuroscience is a rich and complex field—just ask Michael W. Miller. He has worked as a professional in the field for years, as professor, researcher, and author. And his work has proven nothing if not rich and varied.” “As a professional, Michael W. Miller has done it all. From teaching to presenting to publishing, he has achieved a great deal. But this has all come through his hard work.”

  8. ORI found that Dr.Miller had falsified or fabricated data in four NIH grant applications.Therefore he very likely defrauded the Federal government of a six to seven figure sum of money.This is a Federal crime. Why was he not prosecuted ?

    Don K

    1. Just guessing, but one reason may be that criminal prosecution requires a higher standard of proof than a civil matter. Another reason may be that, in a criminal matter, the accused might be entitled to withhold evidence on 5th amendment grounds that could not be withheld in a civil matter.

      1. I do not believe the reason for the small number of prosecutions is the need to meet a higher standard of proof. The few Individuals who have been successfully prosecuted in Federal court were convicted based on the evidence developed by ORI investigations

        Don K

    2. Also just guessing, but given the relatively short “sentence” and “no contest” statement in the ORI report I assume there was some sort of plea bargain.

      1. That is likely so. However, I don’t believe that more severe punishments are necessary for there to be a chilling effect on potential offenders.The knowledge that they are risking Federal prosecution for a felony should be enough to cause them to question if their plan is worth the risk.I believe that more such cases,, well publicized, could have that effect.

        Don K..

        believe more well publicized instances of federal prosecutions for research misconduct would would have a chilling effect on potential

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