Research challenged by allegations of fraud -- accusations that eventually forced out Nobel laureate David Baltimore from the presidency of Rockefeller University -- is accurate after all, scientists reported yesterday, the latest twist in one of the most celebrated scientific misconduct cases.
According to a team of scientists at Columbia and Stanford universities, new experiments on the immune systems of genetically engineered mice indicate that the work of immunogeneticist Thereza Imanishi-Kari was accurate. She was accused of fabricating data in a paper, co-authored by Dr. Baltimore and published in the journal Cell in 1985.
In a report to be published in International Immunology in September, immunologists Kong-Peng Lam and Alan Stall of Columbia University and immunogeneticist Leonore Herzenberg of Stanford substantially support the results in the Cell paper.
"Does our data prove or disprove fraud in the original paper? No. It can't. There is no actual way, post hoc, to prove or disprove fraud," Dr. Stall said in a phone interview yesterday. "But I can say that our data are totally consistent with [Dr. Imanishi-Kari's] earlier paper. In every case where we have directly looked at similar aspects of the [scientific] problem, we agree and confirm her results. "Basically, our conclusion is that her original work was correct."
Dr. Herzenberg said that their work "shows that they were completely right, although we didn't go back and use the same reagents [biochemicals]." The paper in Cell "showed that the antibodies these mice made were abnormal, and our current paper confirms that absolutely."
Dr. Baltimore was not accused of fraud but was criticized for not taking strong enough action on the allegations of a former postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Imanishi-Kari's laboratory, Margot O'Toole.
But Ms. O'Toole noted that the work Dr. Stall and Dr. Herzenberg published earlier tended to support her position, rather than Dr. Imanishi-Kari's.
As for the new report, Dr. Baltimore said, "I'm very satisfied with that. I have never had any doubt that the paper was correct. I withdrew it [from Cell] only because of the nature of the draft NIH report that was leaked to the press."
The draft report, prepared by the National Institutes of Health's Office of Scientific Integrity, reported evidence of fraud based on an examination of laboratory materials collected by Secret Service agents. A former Secret Service expert hired by Dr. Imanishi-Kari's attorney disputed the evidence.
A final report is pending, and Dr. Baltimore said he won't ask for the reinstatement of the Cell paper until that report is released.