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Nobelist Baltimore assails 'fraud police' in science Scientist vindicated after 10-year probe that ravaged career

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Nobel laureate David Baltimore, his career ravaged by a decade-long scientific fraud case that was only recently judged baseless, called yesterday for major changes in the way government and academia pursue alleged misconduct and blasted "self-appointed fraud police" who presume scientists are guilty until proven innocent.

In his first extended public comments on the case, Baltimore, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of immunology and molecular biology, also had harsh words for his critics, calling them "scurrilous," "pernicious," "bulldogs" and "out of control." He contended that rivals at Harvard University, whom he would not name, had fanned the attacks on him.

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"We need to return to the presumption that [scientific] fraud is rare, and when it involves a major issue it is easily detected," Baltimore told an audience of 250 people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I do not believe that fraud police in Washington serve anyone's interests. Trust is still at the basis of science and always will be."

Baltimore, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1975, was thrust into the heart of a controversy over research conducted by a colleague, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, in a 1986 paper they and other researchers published in the journal Cell.

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In defending Imanishi-Kari against charges first brought by colleague Margot O'Toole that data in her research were suspicious, Baltimore battled top leaders of Congress, the Secret Service and federal investigators. In 1990 the controversy forced him from the presidency of Rockefeller University.

In June, an appeals board of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cleared Imanishi-Kari of all charges related to the case, rejecting earlier findings by the HHS Office of &r; Research Integrity that Imanishi-Kari had faked data.

Many of Baltimore's harshest comments yesterday were reserved for Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who held several high-profile hearings on the case, which he called a major example of fraud in federally aided science.

"Dingell's pride and reputation was heavily invested in looking for an opportunity to prove that [the National Institutes of Health] did not know how to handle fraud," Baltimore said. "He had investigators trying to scare us."

Dingell could not immediately be reached last night. In a July column in the Washington Post, he defended his probe, saying it had spurred universities to adopt better procedures to attack fraud in the $9 billion of taxpayer funds the National Institutes of Health fund provide researchers each year.

Referring to investigators in the HHS fraud office, Baltimore denounced them as "self-appointed fraud busters."

Appearing in a panel discussion at MIT's Wong Auditorium, Baltimore said his experience and others' proved that when investigators "approach with a preconceived notion of fraud," they will find it -- even though "frauds of a serious nature are so rare" in scientific research and are usually exposed and corrected by follow-up research.

Although Imanishi-Kari was cleared of any charges of fraud, the reports found -- and she and Baltimore have long acknowledged -- that there were significant errors in their data, but none serious enough to challenge the basic findings.

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The research involved work on genetically engineered mice that suggested possible ways of transferring from person to person genes that would provide resistance to diseases.

Pub Date: 10/29/96


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