A University of Kansas scientist has been cleared of charges that he misused federal research funds in a 1976 field study in Belize, in Central America.

A Health and Human Services Department review board last week notified physical anthropologist Michael Crawford and the National Institutes of Health that the University of Kansas would not have to return the more than $21,000 in grant money that NIH said last year was misspent.

"I would say that the board has vindicated Dr. Crawford's scientific judgment and the conduct of the University of Kansas as a recipient of funds," said Mary Miers of the NIH's office of extramural research and training, which last October issued the order the review board overturned.

Other NIH findings, including that Crawford had failed to obtain the required advance approval for research on human subjects and that he had diverted salary funds to unreceipted research spending, could not be appealed to the HHS review board.

Miers said Wednesday that Crawford will have to clear future human research directly with NIH instead of at the university level, and that he will not be considered eligible for a place on a peer review committee.

Crawford's lawyer, T. Dale Nicklas, said Wednesday that the scientist's failure to get advance approval for his research was "clearly a clerical error" caused by time pressures and that the other NIH findings were either trivial or false.

Crawford is seeking defamation damages against two former graduate students and a University of Kansas professor who publicly criticized the propriety of his research.

Nicklas complained that the clearing of Crawford on misuse of research funds came six years after the original allegations and does nothing to repay his $12,000 in legal costs and the damage to his reputation.

"He's bewildered that this could happen," Nicklas said.