SCIENTISTS ACKNOWLEDGE MISTAKES IN AN ARTICLE

Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 11/17/1988 Page: 24
Section: NATIONAL/FOREIGN

A team of Boston-based scientists that includes a Nobel Prize laureate has acknowledged three "misstatements" made in a scientific paper published in the journal Cell more than two years ago.

Their letter to the magazine was written at the suggestion of a panel of investigators from the National Institutes of Health. A powerful House committee chairman said the investigators' tip enabled the scientists to ''defuse" an upcoming NIH report on the misstatements.

The scientists are Nobel laureate David Baltimore, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge; Thereza Imanishi- Kari, a pathologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine; Moema Reis, now of the Instituto Biologico in Sao Paolo, Brazil; and David Weaver from Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The names of two authors of the original paper, Frank Constantini and Christopher Albanese, do not appear in the letter to Cell.

The scientists said their letter, to be published in tomorrow's issue, was prompted by the "intense scrutiny" their paper has received.

Two of the misstatements involve scientific questions first raised by NIH investigators in September, and the third involves an error raised and acknowledged in the spring of 1986, when the article was published, Baltimore said in a telephone interview.

The paper, which describes experiments on the genetic control of the immune system, became the focus of widespread press coverage in April when a former graduate student in Imanishi-Kari's lab testified before a House subcommittee that he suspected she committed fraud in representing her data. A lawyer for Imanishi-Kari has denied the accusation.

The hearing before the House Commerce and Energy subcommittee on oversight and investigation prompted an NIH investigation. Both Tufts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where some of the researchers did work for the paper, also investigated the matter.

In their letter to Cell, the scientists say their errors "are not material alterations and do not affect the conclusions of the paper, which remain appropriate and have been the basis of further studies."

NIH is "very close to completing" its report on the controversy, said an NIH spokesman, John Butler. The matter has provoked intense controversy in the scientific press and among scientists, in part because the investigations of both the NIH and the subcommittee were sparked by concerns raised by two scientists at NIH, Ned Feder and Walter Stewart, who have developed a reputation as whistle-blowers on issues of scientific error, misconduct and fraud.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairman of the subcommittee, has expressed concern that academic institutions are not willing to police themselves thoroughly on matters in which scientific misconduct, fraud or error may be involved. He has also suggested that the NIH, which funds biomedical research, may not be capable of doing so either.

While Baltimore said the letter to Cell was prompted by a desire to "set straight" questions that had become confusing, Dingell criticized the NIH panel for telling the scientists about the emerging NIH findings.

In a Nov. 10 letter to Dr. Otis Bowen, secretary of health and human services, Dingell said he found it "curious" that "the coauthors are now suddenly acknowledging misstatements." Bowen's office had no comment on the letter.

Dingell said the NIH panel had warned the targets of its investigation of its findings, allowing them to blunt the upcoming report.

Dingell expressed "concern over the fact that the NIH panel directly or indirectly conveyed to the subjects of its investigation the findings of their investigative report and in effect suggested how the authors could preempt the findings. The authors were thus able to defuse the NIH report by writing a letter to the editor of Cell, which made it appear that they were voluntarily correcting errors that had only recently come to their attention."

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 19:45:11 EDT 2000