The Duke case “should scare all [academic] institutions around the country,” attorney Joel Androphy of Berg & Androphy told Retraction Watch. If successful, he added, it could “open the floodgates” to other whistleblowing cases on research misconduct in academia.
Potts-Kant was arrested on charges of embezzlement (totaling more than $25,000) in March 2013. She pled guilty, received a fine and probation, and was ordered to perform community service. Following a Duke investigation, 15 of Potts-Kant’s papers were retracted, some citing “unreliable” data. Additional publications have corrections or expressions of concern.
The lawsuit filed by Thomas was unsealed by a US district court last month, according to the news report; in it, Thomas claims that other researchers at Duke were aware of the problems with Pott-Kant’s work but that the university withheld information from federal funding agencies.
According to Thomas’s complaint, the misconduct affects at least 49 grants worth $82.8 million from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency, and that an additional 15 NIH grants, worth $120.9 million, were awarded based on fraudulent data.
Duke responded to the accusations in a statement: “Even though the full scope of Ms. Potts-Kant’s actions were not known at the time, Duke notified several government agencies in June 2013 about the matter and immediately launched a formal scientific misconduct investigation, as required by federal law.”