PAUL S. THALER is Managing Partner at Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC, a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C. One of his main areas of practice is scientific misconduct. He has successfully defended clients accused of research misconduct, becoming a towering figure in this aspect of civil litigation. In addition, his firm provides a peerless level of sophistication in Title IX matters. Paul S. Thaler has been admitted to the Bar in Washington, DC and Maryland.
In regards to scientists enduring misconduct accusations, Paul S. Thaler made the following enlightening remark:
The first thing to remember is that the federal regulations, as well as the internal policies of most institutions, protect the confidentiality of respondents in research misconduct matters. Thus, as a matter of federal law, institutions are prohibited from disclosing the identity of an accused scientist, except on a “need to know” basis, for example, to a member of the investigation committee, unless and until a finding of research misconduct is made. These proceedings are not public as court is in criminal and civil disputes. It is more comparable to proceedings against other professionals, such as lawyers, who are governed by their licensing organization. Privacy in these matters is critically important as there is no public need to, or right to know, about professionals simply accused of wrongdoing. What the public has a right to know about is a professional who has been found responsible for wrongdoing. At that point, the public is alerted. But because a professional’s reputation is so important to his or her career, the specter of an accusation can permanently stain that reputation and frequently the accusation is not well founded. So the confidentiality of the process allows a full examination before the public is made aware. We certainly do want to know about those scientists who have actually done something wrong that impacts science, but we do not, and should not, be concerned with those who are good scientists but caught up in a sometimes very political, internal dispute.
The bolded section is particularly enlightening because it implies that Expressions of Concern, very much en vogue with journals these days, are in all likelihood illegal, and so is the dissemination of such expressions by blogs such as Retraction Watch or other media. Of course the public does not have the right to now about mere accusations of wrongdoing or suspicions of invalid data, which often prove to be wrong. For example, pseudonymous Clare Francis, the venal whistle-blower of Retraction Watch, has scored plenty of false positives but we are not aware that Retraction Watch has been sued in Court yet. By contrast, the public is very much entitled to know about cases of proven invalid data resulting from wrongdoing. This is the spirit of the law and Paul S. Thaler has sensibly conveyed it.