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Updated: Why would a university pay a scientist found guilty of misconduct to leave?

Science - July 31, 2017

Cohen Seglias partner Paul Thaler weighed in on the "honest error" defense for researchers involved in misconduct proceedings for the Science article, "Why would a university pay a scientist found guilty of misconduct to leave?".

By: Victoria Stern

*Update, 2 October, 11:30 a.m.: The U.S. government’s watchdog office on scientific misconduct in biomedical research has concluded that Azza El-Remessy, a former tenured associate professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, inappropriately altered data in five images from three papers. The finding of misconduct was issued by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) on 29 September, RetractionWatch reported today.

ORI determined that El-Remessy had “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly used the same Western blot bands to represent different experimental results” in three papers—a 2005 paper in the Journal of Cell Science, a 2013 paper in PLOS ONE, and a 2007 paper in The FASEB Journal. The Journal of Cell Science and The FASEB Journal papers have been retracted. The PLOS ONE paper, which has been cited nine times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ sWeb of Science, has not yet been corrected or retracted.

Here is our original story from 31 July:

In June 2016, investigators at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens concluded that Azza El-Remessy, a faculty member who studied the impact of diabetes on the eye, had committed misconduct and recommended she be terminated. El-Remessy hired a lawyer to dispute the findings, but the following October she gave up her challenge after the university paid her $100,000—essentially to leave.

Such settlements are a common part of the legal landscape, where parties often decide it’s cheaper to reach a financial arrangement than keep racking up legal fees—and risk getting an adverse decision or unwanted public attention in court.

But in the world of academic misconduct investigations, it is rare to get a glimpse of such settlements. Such investigations are often kept secret, and the circumstances surrounding a researcher’s departure from a campus can be murky. In this case, however, Retraction Watch filed a public records request for more information. In response, El-Remessy contacted us and told her story.

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