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Facing Federal Inquiry: A Look at Possible Consequences

By Elias J. Groll, Crimson Staff Writer

After the revelation that a Harvard investigation has found psychology Professor Marc D. Hauser responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct, the question remains exactly what repercussions he will face. Hauser has announced that he will take a leave during the coming year, but further sanctions may be in the cards for the celebrated professor. In a letter to the faculty, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said that the University is cooperating with the Public Health Service Office of Research Integrity, the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. These agencies will neither confirm nor deny whether they are investigating Hauser, but below are a range of punitive measures available to these agencies.

Public Health Service Office of Research Integrity

WHAT IT IS: ORI is a government organization that monitors institutional investigations of research labs.

CONSEQUENCES: According to John Dahlberg, the director of the division of investigative oversight, in a case like Hauser’s ORI can choose to either disbar the professor or subject him to increased supervision by colleagues at the University.

Disbarment entails being unable to receive or work on projects with federal funding, a move that would serverely curtail Hauser’s ability to carry out his research. ORI can choose to disbar an individual from around 3 years to the course of an individual’s career.

HISTORICALLY: Most disbarments are 3 years in length. ORI disbars from 20 to 30 individuals per year.

National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General

WHAT IT IS: The NSF OIG provides independent oversight of the agency’s programs and operations.

CONSEQUENCES: According to Edward T. Waters, a Washington D.C. attorney with the firm Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, the NSF Inspector General can investigate a case with the ability to refer his findings to the NSF and other branches of the federal government, including the Justice Department. That means the IG has a wide range of punitive options available to him if he finds criminal or civil wrong-doing.

HISTORICALLY: According to Waters, the government rarely deals with cases of scientific misconduct. A search of a Department of Health and Human Services database turned up only two cases of scientific misconduct in the past 10 years.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts

WHAT IT IS: This federal agency functions as the principal litigator for the U.S. in the District of Massachusetts.

CONSEQUENCES: If the U.S. Attorney’s office for MA chooses to investigate the case they will present their findings to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict Hauser.

HISTORICALLY: The MA U.S. attorney has had little interaction with the University over the past 10 years, with the notable exception of the $120 million suit brought against the University regarding economics Professor Andrei Shleifer’s actions while an advisor to the Russian government in the early 1990s.

The attorney’s office has also prosecuted two former researchers at the Medical School who were accused of stealing trade secrets from the University. The materials were returned, and the case was settled out of court.

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FAS AdministrationPsychologyMarc Hauser