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Debarment Appeal Can Be Heard

David Pittman

For the first time, a federal judge has allowed a debarred scientist to have an appeal hearing.

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A former St. Jude Children Research Center scientist who was debarred last year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for falsifying information in two published papers, will get a chance to contest those allegations.

Earlier this month, judge Amy Jackson of the Washington, D.C., federal court ordered that barred researcher Philippe Bois must be allowed to argue his case before an HHS administrative law judge. Previously, the HHS judge denied such a hearing, citing insufficient evidence.

After an investigation led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Office of Research Integrity has found that Bois falsified data in a figure from a 2005 paper published in the Journal of Cell Biology. Source: Scripps Research Institute/Journal of Cell Biology

Since a 2005 rule change in the appeal process, no scientist has been granted an appeal hearing before an HHS administrative law judge grant. Bois will become the first since the HHS Office of Research Integrity (ORI) abolished a panel of scientists who adjudicated scientific misconduct cases before the rule change.

“We think it represents a major step forward and creates a significant precedent for scientists to be given an opportunity to clear their name,” said Bois’ attorney Richard Goldstein of Donoghue Barrett & Singal of Boston.

Highlighting that the HHS judge did not elaborate on the reasons for not hearing the case, Jackson ordered that the three-year ban be vacated and that Bois should have the opportunity to present his defense in a hearing.

At that hearing, Bois will have his first chance to present his argument, cross-examine witnesses, and look at ORI’s evidence, none of which occurred before the debarment order.

For example, during its investigation, the ORI confiscated Bois’ lab notebooks. Since then, he and his legal team have not been allowed to examine them for evidence that could support their case. With Bois’ lab notebooks in hand, “it’s our hope that we will identify yet more reasons why he should be vindicated,” Goldstein said.

Last year, an investigation by the ORI found Bois guilty of including falsified data in papers published in 2005 in the Journal of Cell Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology (1-2). As a result, the HHS banned Bois from participating in federally funded research projects for three years.

In both papers, the ORI’s report said that labels were mislabeled and selectively reported to show desired results. In 2007, the Journal of Cell Biology paper was retracted, and the Molecular and Cellular Biology paper was corrected.

Although Bois admits that he made mistakes in the papers, he denies that those mistakes were purposeful. “Honest error” is not research misconduct, according to the ORI regulations.

“Dr. Bois’ position is that he did not intend to deceive anybody,” Goldstein said. “If there were mistakes, he’ll certainly accept responsibility for mistakes that he made.”

With the new ruling, the case will now go back before an HHS judge. A date for the hearing has not been set.


  1. Bois, P.R., K. Izeradjene, P.J. Houghton, J.L. Cleveland, J.A. Houghton, and G.C. Grosveldz. 2007. FOXO1a acts as a selective tumor suppressor in alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. J. Cell Biol. 177:563.

  1. Bois, P.R., R.A. Borgon, C. Vonrhein, and T. Izard. 2005. Structural dynamics of alpha-actinin-vinculin interactions. Mol. Cell. Biol. 25:6112-6122.

Keywords:  misconduct Bois