Settlement Ends Misconduct Saga

Molecular physiologist Kimon Angelides last week ended a long battle against his former employer, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, which had found him guilty of fabricating data and stripped him of tenure. On 10 February, Angelides settled a civil suit filed against Baylor and 14 individuals at the university, after a federal appeals board had released a report backing Baylor's findings that he had "committed scientific misconduct."

The first hint of trouble came in 1992, when a Baylor department chief questioned data in Angelides's grant applications. After a 2-year investigation, a Baylor panel found that Angelides had falsified and fabricated figures in five journal articles and five grant applications. The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concurred with the findings in 1997, and barred Angelides from receiving federal grants for 5 years. But Angelides, claiming other scientists in his lab had falsified the data, appealed the ORI ruling and sued Baylor, its president, the seven panelists who examined his case, two former members of his lab, and four others for slander and denial of due process.

A jury had listened to more than a week's worth of plaintiff's testimony when the HHS appeals board, which had conducted its own investigation, released a report concluding that Angelides's "accusations against other researchers were unsubstantiated." The evidence, it said, showed "intentional and conscious fraud." Hours later, Angelides agreed to accept the appeals decision and ORI debarment. He will neither appeal nor criticize the decision publicly; will not claim "he has been exonerated or vindicated"; and dismisses all claims against the defendants. Angelides will receive no payment, although Baylor will pay his attorneys $500,000.

Baylor lead trial counsel Gerard G. Pecht, of the Houston-based firm Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, says those sued "have been totally vindicated." The settlement may also bring some reassurance to officials at other universities, who have worried that they could be sued simply for following the federal government's requirements to investigate misconduct allegations (Science, 12 February, p. 913). According to ORI acting director Chris Pascal, HHS "is considering whether additional legal protections are needed in this area," via legislation or regulation, to shield institutions and scientists who serve on misconduct panels from lawsuits. "Otherwise," says Pecht, "the inclination may be for some institutions to sweep the problem under the rug."