Update on Philippe Bois Research Misconduct Case
On April 18, 2013, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) published a notice of 2 findings of research misconduct by Dr. Bois in the Federal Register at 78 Fed. Reg. 23255 (.pdf).
The Federal Register described the terms of the settlement agreement and set forth ORI’s research misconduct findings in full. Nonetheless, in an item headed “Lawsuit settlement” under “Seven days: 19-25 April 2013: Nature News and Comment” (.pdf) published online, the terms of the settlement are not accurately characterized. ORI is concerned that the scientific community has been misinformed about the outcome and significance of this case and wishes to correct the view stated in the news item that Philippe Bois, Ph.D “successfully appealed the ORI findings” and that he “inadvertently fabricated” data.
In brief, Dr. Bois filed a request for an administrative hearing before a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) under 42 C.F.R. Part 93, Subpart E, to contest ORI’s misconduct findings for falsifications in two figures (pdf) , Figure 4B in Mol. Cell. Biol. 25:6112, 2005 (MCB), and Figure 1A in J. Cell Biol. 170:903, 2005 (JCB), and the administrative actions imposed.
The request for hearing was denied by the ALJ (.pdf).
In a subsequent lawsuit filed by Dr. Bois, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson affirmed the ALJ’s decision to deny the hearing request regarding one finding, Figure 1A, JCB, because the ALJ’s ruling that Dr. Bois had failed to raise a genuine dispute over facts material to that finding was not arbitrary and capricious.
However, the Court also found that the ALJ’s dismissal of Dr. Bois’ hearing request for the second finding, Figure 4B, MCB, was arbitrary and capricious and the judge vacated the debarment of Dr. Bois. Judge Jackson wrote (.pdf):
This ruling should not read as any sort of exoneration, and does not purport to address the merits of Dr. Bois’s case; rather it is simply a determination that Dr. Bois must have the opportunity to present his highly factual defense, which may or may not withstand cross-examination and any rebuttal evidence ORI elects to present.
While HHS’s Motion for Reconsideration was pending in U.S. District Court, Dr. Bois and HHS reached a settlement whereby Dr. Bois denied that he committed research misconduct but agreed not to further appeal ORI’s findings of research misconduct for the falsification of the two figures in MCB and JCB. He further agreed to have his research supervised for a period of three years. There is no other factual statement by ORI, no agreed to statement by Dr. Bois, and no ruling by a judge that the conduct described in the finding set forth above was ‘inadvertent.’ Honest error is not included in the definition of research misconduct.