We explore this novel legal question in our most recent work-in-progress titled “The Law & Economics of Research Fraud,” which is available on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) here. Our paper sets the stage by reviewing three recent examples of alleged research fraud in the social sciences: James Hunton’s various research projects on accounting fraud, Michael LaCour’s fake gay-marriage survey published in the journal Science (and later retracted), and Alice Goffman’s dubious study of fugitive life in her best-selling book On the run. Next, we delve into the law and assess the potential civil liability of lead authors and co-authors in cases involving fabricated data under various common law theories of liability (tort and contract). We also assess the potential civil liability of research institutions and “predatory publishers” under various theories of vicarious liability. (By the way, we will write about the possibility of criminal liability in a future paper.) There is, however, a larger question that we leave to others for now: would the imposition of legal liability have a “chilling effect” on research? Maybe, maybe not, but here is another question to think about: why should academics be held to a lower legal standard than, say, businessmen are?
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