March 25, 2019 5:03 PM ET
Duke University is paying the U.S. government $112.5 million to settle accusations that it submitted bogus data to win federal research grants. The settlement will also bring a $33.75 million payment to Joseph Thomas, the whistleblower who drew attention to the fraud when he worked for Duke.
Thomas, a former Duke lab analyst, sued the university on behalf of the federal government, saying that a Duke researcher fudged data to help the university win and keep lucrative grants from two agencies, the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The dozens of grants in question covered the study of the lung function of mice. The Justice Department says Thomas’ lawsuit alleged that “between 2006 and 2018, Duke knowingly submitted and caused to be submitted” claims to federal agencies that were unknowingly paying grant money for falsified research data. It adds that while the agreement settles the court case, it does not mean Duke has been determined liable.
Duke says it “discovered the possible research misconduct in 2013 after the [research] technician was fired for embezzling money from the university.”
In a statement to NPR, Thomas’ attorneys say his lawsuit was motivated by the fraud’s scope, as well as his concerns that the university wasn’t being transparent enough, after “Duke’s administration and researchers faced the reality that seven years of data were false or unreliable.”
Discussing the university’s ethical standards in a statement about the case, Duke President Vincent E. Price said virtually all of the school’s researchers are dedicated to meeting them.
“When individuals fail to uphold those standards,” he added,” and those who are aware of possible wrongdoing fail to report it, as happened in this case, we must accept responsibility, acknowledge that our processes for identifying and preventing misconduct did not work, and take steps to improve.”