Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 05/16/1991 Page: 17

The whistleblower in a research fraud case, in a rebuttal to a statement last week by Nobel laureate David Baltimore, says Baltimore submitted data to a research journal in 1989 after he was warned it was fabricated and later withheld critical information during congressional testimony.

Margot O'Toole, the whistleblower, writes in today's issue of the journal Nature that not only did she warn Baltimore in 1986 that some experiments had not been done but says she told him in January 1989 that crucial data was fabricated.

"Even with this statement in hand," writes O'Toole, Baltimore "submitted the fabricated data" in a letter of correction published in May 1989 in the journal Cell. The correction was an attempt to explain flaws in the original paper, published in Cell in April 1986.

O'Toole's statement was a response to Baltimore's acknowledgment last week in two prestigious scientific journals, Science and Nature, of several missteps in the case. Baltimore insisted that if Thereza Imanishi-Kari, his one-time colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "did falsify data or make misrepresentations, I had no knowledge of the misconduct."

In March, an investigatory panel from the National Institutes of Health concluded in a draft report that Imanishi-Kari, now an assistant professor at the Tufts School of Medicine, fabricated data related to a 1986 paper on the genetics of the immune system that she published with a number of co-authors, including Baltimore.

Baltimore's statement last week was accompanied in Nature by an editorial praising Baltimore's "courage" and hailing "the end of the Baltimore saga."

The editorial, written by editor John Maddox, disturbed some scientists who side with O'Toole and feel that the end of the saga is nowhere in sight. The scientists, including two Nobel laureates, telephoned Maddox and urged him to print the rebuttal from O'Toole, who worked in Imanishi-Kari's laboratory.

"I spoke to Maddox and suggested it would be very good to publish O'Toole's statement," said Walter Gilbert, a Nobel laureate and Loeb university professor at Harvard.

Maddox declined to comment at length yesterday but acknowledged that there was "a certain amount of conversation certainly on both sides of the fence. You can well imagine some people think the issue is at an end and some think not."

O'Toole's latest statement is important, said Gilbert, because "it shows us that Baltimore had been told many times, including as early as June 1986, that the data for some of the experiments in the Cell paper of April 1986 did not exist."

"In 1988," Gilbert continued, "Thereza Imanishi-Kari created a fraudulent notebook to give to government investigators, and an NIH panel recently confirmed that this notebook was fraudulent and that the data did not exist.

"Even so, in 1989, Baltimore went ahead and submitted a letter of correction to Cell using that fraudulent data, even though he had been informed prior to submitting the letter that the data was fraudulent. And there was written documentation that he had been informed. His statement in Nature failed to discuss these elements."

Baltimore, now president of Rockefeller University in New York, had not seen O'Toole's rebuttal, according to a spokesman, who issued a short statement calling O'Toole's history of the events surrounding the Cell paper ''not completely accurate."

Baltimore added that he will consider a more substantive reply after he has had a chance to read O'Toole's statement carefully.

Although much of O'Toole's statement in Nature presents information that she long ago made available to investigators, the clear language in which she makes her case may prove influential to researchers not yet familiar with the details, several scientists said.

O'Toole contended that in addition to submitting fabricated data to Cell in 1989, Baltimore withheld crucial information at a hearing in May 1989 held by US Rep. John Dingell of Michigan.

At that hearing, Secret Service personnel presented forensic evidence that Imanishi-Kari's laboratory notebooks had been doctored after the fact.

O'Toole wrote that "at no point during the 1989 hearings, nor, as I understand it, in his meeting with the Secret Service, did Dr. Baltimore reveal his prior knowledge that the records had been assembled in preparation for the 1988 NIH investigations. . . . When asked directly about the notebooks during sworn testimony, Dr. Baltimore still did not disclose what he knew" -- that Imanishi-Kari's notebooks had been put together after the fact.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 19:44:11 EDT 2000