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laurasbadideas
09-29-2013, 11:57 AM
Here's my scenario, in the US:

A college student writes a research paper and publishes it (in some public but non-peer-reviewed venue). The paper is very convincing, but because of an issue with the way the data was collected, the results are wrong. The paper is cited in congressional debates about a new piece of federal legislation and is one of several factors that contribute to getting this new bill passed. The new law leads to the creation of a new industry; the student starts an extremely profitable business in that industry.

Has the student committed a crime, in any of these three variations?

1. She planned the whole thing from the start, falsifying her data as part of a complicated scheme to influence federal legislation and then profit from it.

2. She made an innocent mistake when collecting her data. She discovered the issue after her paper was published, but before Congress voted on the new bill. She made no attempt to publicly acknowledge or correct her mistake.

3. She made an innocent mistake when collecting her data and didn't discover it until after the bill was passed.

I'm hoping to find a scenario in which the student has made an innocent mistake, but people suspect that she's committed a serious crime.

chickenma
09-29-2013, 12:04 PM
My guess is none since this is not an expert testimony. More a case of Buyer Beware.

blacbird
09-29-2013, 12:26 PM
Can't see any crime involved, unless some actual fraudulent statements were made.

Ethics are another matter. But bad ethics do not directly equate to criminal acts. Gooooogle "used car salesmen".

caw

usuallycountingbats
09-29-2013, 12:29 PM
I don't think this is a crime even if she'd done it in peer reviewed scientific literature? After all, once Dr Wakefield was struck off in the UK he moved to the USA and set up profit making businesses related to his completely discredited research. There were no criminal charges in the UK despite him having done a great deal of unethical work.

laurasbadideas
09-29-2013, 01:04 PM
Thanks, all.


My guess is none since this is not an expert testimony. More a case of Buyer Beware.

She's definitely not testifying before Congress (or anywhere).


Can't see any crime involved, unless some actual fraudulent statements were made.


There's a lot of circumstancial evidence that makes it look like she was deliberately falsifying her research.


I don't think this is a crime even if she'd done it in peer reviewed scientific literature? After all, once Dr Wakefield was struck off in the UK he moved to the USA and set up profit making businesses related to his completely discredited research. There were no criminal charges in the UK despite him having done a great deal of unethical work.

Good point. This does have a lot of parallels to the Wakefield case (except that in my story, the consequences are only financial; no one dies as a result of relying on the student's results). But maybe the laws are different in the two countries.

Cathy C
09-29-2013, 03:08 PM
If it was planned, it's likely some form of fraud, depending on the laws of the state where she lives. It would be the equivalent of insider trading, where a person has knowledge of or, more importantly, creates the circumstances to profit from the result. Think of the Hunt silver hoarding (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Thursday) scheme of the 1970s.

The trick for prosecutors would be proving the "knowledge aforethought." If it was an innocent mistake, they wouldn't find it. But it would smell fishy, so they'd dig and dig deep and make her life hell in the process. Perfect for your story. :)

T Robinson
09-29-2013, 05:03 PM
<not a lawyer, do not play one on TV> Scenario #1#2: Could be called Federal wire fraud.#3, probably not. The key in all three scenarios depends on how you write it. Brief primer, in case you don't know. To prove a crime, the prosecutor must prove all the elements of the code section for that crime. For example: Wire fraud might be any person who knowingly uses a communications device that crosses state lines, with the intent to defraud another person, legal entity or corporation or the intent to take electronic data that belongs to another.

In this made up scenario, you have to prove: (a) that a court has jurisdiction<in this case, that the crime happened in the US>; (b) That there is an identifiable victim; (c) That your person knowingly used a communications device, (d) To defraud another. That is how you determine if a crime has been committed. Research US code and you can see what you need in your case. Good luck.

shadowwalker
09-29-2013, 05:12 PM
I doubt they could find any crime committed, even if she did falsify data. After all, Congress (and others) would still have the responsibility to double-check the data, sources, conclusions, etc - so even if she was attempting to influence the legislation for personal gain - well, that's just being American. Her reputation might be ruined, but there's nothing criminal involved if she didn't actually testify before Congress (lying to Congress is a crime).

jclarkdawe
09-29-2013, 05:17 PM
I'm not sure how much any of the answers on this forum is going to be that helpful. You need to be doing some serious research.

Personally I'm not especially buying into your premise, but ignoring that ...

First possible crime would be if she testifies before a Congressional hearing. If she lies during that process, she could be guilty of perjury. Testimony to Congress is done under oath usually.

Second would be if her business goes public (selling stock). Any statements in the prospectus that are made that are knowingly false violate Security and Exchange Commission laws and state regulations.

Third would be if she sells her product making statements that she knows to be false. This would be fraud.

Proving any of this might be difficult. T. Robinson has a good summary of the elements of fraud. The difficulty in any of these is proving "knowingly."

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
09-29-2013, 06:36 PM
I agree with the squirrel. Everyone is responsible for their acts and speech.
If the Congressional testimony was knowingly false, then she committed either perjury or contempt of Congress, or both.
If it was presented as part of a public statement of a publically held company, then it would be fraud.

aimeestates
09-29-2013, 06:41 PM
I'm with Cathy C.--option one is definitely fraud (among other possibilities). If this was a report coming out of a pharmacy company and it got past the FDA, heads would freaking roll all over the place. The situations are different, but when you purposely deceive to the point your fabrication has changed legislation, and then top it off with a business that's exploiting the lie? It's not going to be pretty.

ironmikezero
09-29-2013, 09:47 PM
Title 18 of the US Code, Section 1001 covers false statements, concealing, covering up, etc... However, as previously cited the critical qualifying aspects are; "...knowingly and willfully..."

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1001

laurasbadideas
09-30-2013, 12:56 AM
Thanks, everyone. You've given me a lot to think about.

oakbark
10-03-2013, 04:50 PM
Nr.1 happens all the time on low and high levels. Just look at global warming lobbying. The most common corporate crime? Probably.

shaldna
10-04-2013, 03:51 PM
Here's my scenario, in the US:

A college student writes a research paper and publishes it (in some public but non-peer-reviewed venue). The paper is very convincing, but because of an issue with the way the data was collected, the results are wrong. The paper is cited in congressional debates about a new piece of federal legislation and is one of several factors that contribute to getting this new bill passed. The new law leads to the creation of a new industry; the student starts an extremely profitable business in that industry.

Has the student committed a crime, in any of these three variations?

1. She planned the whole thing from the start, falsifying her data as part of a complicated scheme to influence federal legislation and then profit from it.

2. She made an innocent mistake when collecting her data. She discovered the issue after her paper was published, but before Congress voted on the new bill. She made no attempt to publicly acknowledge or correct her mistake.

3. She made an innocent mistake when collecting her data and didn't discover it until after the bill was passed.

I'm hoping to find a scenario in which the student has made an innocent mistake, but people suspect that she's committed a serious crime.


You're assuming that government is stupid and that legislation happens quickly.

Firstly, no single paper will change anything - especially one that's not been published in the right places. Peer review is very important. And trust me, any paper or piece of information which will contribute to legislation will be picked over by a hoarde of other, independant specialists who will consider everything from the results to the methodology and will even go so far as to re-create the study / tests.

Secondly, legislation takes a long time and there are many stages. One of which includes a public consultation period in which the views and opinions of the general public are taken into consideration and any issues etc can be addressed. You'd be surprised how amny people don't know about that stage. What I found when I worked in legisation was that the folks in specialist areas - particularly science, tech and research - were very in tune with what happens in government and tend to respond really thoroughly to consultation.

Thirdly, data capture is subject to an immesnse amount of scrutiny at all stages. If she's made a mistake then it will be picked up.

In addition, if the paper is cited in debate then you can guarentee that the opposition will pick it apart looking for flaws.

Legislation generally takes a couple of years, or more, from start to finish, so the likelyhood of this happening while she is still a student is minimal.

I'm sorry, I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but I can't think of a realisitc senario where what you have proposed would ever happen.

BDSEmpire
10-04-2013, 06:30 PM
You should read up on Pons and Fleischman and the Colf Fusion debacle from the 80's. It's a real life event that mirrors your plot outline and gives an idea of how the affair went down in the real world: http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/cold_fusion_01 has a good overview of the event.

aimeestates
10-04-2013, 06:34 PM
I'm sorry, I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but I can't think of a realisitc senario where what you have proposed would ever happen.

True--but fiction stretches reality to the point of tearing all the time. It's all in how you present it.

espresso5
10-05-2013, 03:42 AM
One case of interest for you might be the vaccine/autism link and Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent paper. He was slapped with all kinds of ethics violations, but to my knowledge he was never charged with a crime.

Lil
10-05-2013, 05:52 AM
She fakes her data to write a paper which leads to federal legislation being passed, and she planned the whole thing?

I'm sorry, but you would have to be a magician to get me to believe this. Put a realistic time frame on this—thinking it up, doing (or faking) the research,writing it up, getting it peer-reviewed and published, getting the bill written, getting it through committee, getting it passed—and you will see how hard it is to believe. And saying it's fiction means that it has to be more plausible than reality, not less.

laurasbadideas
10-05-2013, 12:11 PM
One thing that I should have been clear about up front is that this story is a farce -- the setup is a series of wildly improbable coincidences and isn't intended to be realistic. The question was, basically, could an overzealous prosecutor look retrospectively at a sequence of events (paper, legislation, profit) and find something vaguely plausible to charge her with.

Lil
10-05-2013, 04:04 PM
One thing that I should have been clear about up front is that this story is a farce -- the setup is a series of wildly improbable coincidences and isn't intended to be realistic. The question was, basically, could an overzealous prosecutor look retrospectively at a sequence of events (paper, legislation, profit) and find something vaguely plausible to charge her with.

Oh sure. The prosecutor can look through old laws and find something that can be twisted to make it sound as if that law is being broken here. Not to sound too cynical, but headline-loving prosecutors have been known to do this sort of thing. There's not likely to be a conviction, but all the prosecutor really wants is the headlines.

King Neptune
10-05-2013, 05:42 PM
One thing that I should have been clear about up front is that this story is a farce -- the setup is a series of wildly improbable coincidences and isn't intended to be realistic. The question was, basically, could an overzealous prosecutor look retrospectively at a sequence of events (paper, legislation, profit) and find something vaguely plausible to charge her with.

Sure, it could be criminal fraud.

jclarkdawe
10-05-2013, 05:50 PM
In New York City, the saying is that any good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich.

Not as a big percentage of the whole, but enough to be noticed if you do this long enough, you'll have bad arrests and bad indictments. Suspect is probably guilty of something, although it might just be that the suspect is a nuisance and blight on humanity, but not clearly criminal behavior.

Could this scenario happen? Sure. Is it very believable? Probably not, but you never can tell. Take a look at BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

SergeantC
10-10-2013, 09:49 PM
Does your character have to be indicted of a crime? Would a civil lawsuit be a suitable substitute?

In civil cases, the standard of evidence is lower, and so the plaintiff's attorneys don't have to satisfy all the elements of a criminal case. All they have to do is satisfy the standards of tort law.

The standard in a civil case is, "Preponderance of the Evidence," rather than "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt," which applies in a criminal trial.

TaniaHouston123
10-20-2013, 04:00 AM
I guess option one could be considered fraud, but other than that, I don't really see a crime being committed.