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Sound practices

For each item, just one grant

For each item, just one grant

Daniel BuenoOverlapping financing from one or more development agencies for the same project may sound like a dream to some researchers, goes the observation by Eugenie Samuel Reich, found in the February 9 issue of Nature magazine. However, the accusations of fraud that were made by the American authorities on January 31 of this year in relation to grants may serve as a warning to those who are tempted to take advantage of duplicate funding for the same project. The accusations also served to put the development agencies on guard regarding the need to avoid undue duplication of grants.

The target of the accusation was Craig Grimes, who until 2010 was a professor of electrical engineering at Pennsylvania State University. In January, he pleaded guilty to charges that included simultaneously receiving grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) and from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to finance the same research on solar conversion of carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons. Although it is fine to request funding from two different agencies for the same project, to actually receive funds and use them is illegal, said Christine Boez, former NSF auditor, to Nature. Duplicate funding is prohibited in many countries, but according to her, there is no way to know how widespread the problem is. Cases only tend to become known if the controllers detect similarities in proposals for grants submitted to the agencies.

Grimes got a grant from the NSF for his research in 2009 and, later on, in the same year, got a second grant from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (Arpa-E), claiming that he had no other source of funding. The university asked Grimes why the grants were so similar, but he assured the institution that there was no overlapping. However, in a paper in 2010, he admitted that the two agencies had financed the same work. It was at this point that the DOE’s auditor discovered the problem; the NSF began its investigation and Grimes lost his post at the university. The accusations against the researcher also include undue appropriation of funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test a blood detector on newborn babies, but this case is still at the investigation stage.

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