Guest post: When whistleblowers need lawyers

Eugenie Reich

In my prior career as an investigative science journalist and now as a whistleblower lawyer, I’ve seen institutions react to allegations of scientific fraud in two ways. 

The first could be called “Investigate and Disclose.” This strategy was exemplified by Bell Laboratories’ 2002 investigation of allegations that Jan Hendrik Schön, a member of the technical staff, mishandled data. The allegations were published in The New York Times in May. In September, Bell Labs released a thorough report on its inquiry revealing fabrications in multiple Nature and Science papers, which were promptly retracted. The report made possible a 2009 book I wrote about the scandal, because once a proper investigation began (and it took a while to get going), the company clarified within months that Schön had faked his data. 

The second, more common response is “Delay and Deny” or “Delay and Downplay,” which is a more common – but insidious – strategy. A Delay and Deny response is not helpful to anyone outside a tiny inner circle of administrators, irrespective of the merit of the allegations.

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