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I'm wondering if the term "research institute" means anything legally; that is, are there any laws in place to stop a random citizen scientist from saying "I'm going to do science", declaring themselves a research institute with one member, and buying equipment or resources typically reserved for large scale lab-based research facilities? I would have figured any research institute would need to be on some kind of government registrar to prevent people from buying lab equipment, pharmaceuticals, or other research materials under potentially false pretenses, but so far I haven't been able to find any legal information that defines a "research institute".

Currently seeking answers about the USA, but am also interested if there are any other legal systems taking a stance on it. Note that I am not asking about the legality of that "fake" research institute performing tests on humans or animals, or whether the "fake" institute would be taken seriously enough to receive any kind of funding or publication opportunities.

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are there any laws in place to stop a random citizen scientist from saying "I'm going to do science", declaring themselves a research institute with one member, and buying equipment or resources typically reserved for large scale lab-based research facilities?

No. It may be defined in statutes describing who is eligible for research grants in the context of particular appropriations statutes, but there is no general definition and it is not a legal term of art.

I would have figured any research institute would need to be on some kind of government registrar to prevent people from buying lab equipment, pharmaceuticals, or other research materials under potentially false pretenses, but so far I haven't been able to find any legal information that defines a "research institute".

Anybody can buy lab equipment. For example, I have a client who runs a business that does chemical analysis of consumer products (including wine) with second hand university and hospital chemical laboratory equipment that needed no license to do so. A relative of mine spent a couple of decades working for a Japanese scientific equipment distributor and neither they nor their customers required any kind of licensing (apart from sales tax and general local government business licenses) to do so.

Pharmaceuticals that include controlled substances require a license to manufacture in order to avoid violating the controlled substances act.

Educational institutions that do research often seek accreditation, but that is a non-governmental process, although accreditation is necessary as a practical matter for students at these institutions to receive government grants and loans for their tuition.

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    Maybe also worth mentioning is that for hazardous lab equipment, chemicals, etc, there would be safety regulations to comply with. You might need to have your facility and procedures inspected and approved by OSHA or some other regulator before you can begin work. This might fit the kind of "licensing" that OP is imagining. Maybe not applicable to a strictly one-person operation, though; OSHA doesn't want you to poison or blow up your employees, but if you want to do it to yourself, the government won't really stop you. Sep 1, 2023 at 17:45
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There is no legislation I am aware of in the US that would determine who would legally be allowed to call themself a "Research Institute."

I suggest that what institutions call themselves has zero bearing on what they actually are. Carve-outs that legislate people saying they are in certain professions certainly exist, like being a lawyer, engineering consultant, architect, etc. "Research Institute" in this scenario really doesn't mean anything. If as this Research Institute you wanted to apply for funding for research, there would be requirements from the funding institution, and the name of the institute would not be one of them.

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