Complainants in a misconduct dispute also have the right to involve the courts. Federal law provides a cause of action termed a “qui tam action” in which a private citizen may bring an action on behalf of the United States to recover government funds. The private individual may be allowed in such a case to receive a portion of those funds as a reward for pursuing the litigation. Such actions have arisen in the context of misconduct in science cases, and the courts have become involved in reviewing qui tam claims on several occasions (Cordes, 1990).


Five issues require special consideration in examining interactions among research institutions, government agencies, and the courts in the handling of allegations of misconduct in science:

  1. Due process requirements for fair and objective institutional investigations of alleged or suspected misconduct in science,

  2. The consequences of misconduct inquiries and investigations,

  3. Faculty participation in misconduct investigations,

  4. The role of whistle-blowers, and

  5. The problem of false allegations in misconduct investigations.

Due Process Requirements

The due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution requires that the government follow fair procedures before depriving an individual of “life, liberty or property.”25 The purpose of procedural due process is not only to “prevent unfair and mistaken deprivations” of constitutionally protected interests,26 but also to allow affected persons to participate in a decision of vital importance to them.27 If an affected interest is at stake, the Constitution requires that the decision must be made using fair procedures.

The due process clause applies only to “state action.” Thus the constitutional limitations directly affect decision making only by governmental entities—in this case, the funding agencies or state universities. Private universities may have constraints on their decision-making processes that arise from contractual relationships with faculty and staff that are similar to those imposed by the Constitution. Hence the requirements of due process provide the benchmark against which misconduct procedures should be evaluated.

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