HOUSE PANEL TO PROBE SCIENTIFIC DISPUTE

Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 04/20/1989 Page: 22
Section: NATIONAL/FOREIGN

A team of Boston-based scientists that includes a Nobel laureate, cleared in February by the National Institutes of Health of allegations of fraud, misconduct, manipulation of data and serious conceptual errors, will be called in early May to testify before a congressional subcommittee, sources said yesterday.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Commerce and Energy subcommittee on oversight and investigation, has scheduled a two-day hearing for May 4 and 5 at which the key figures in the scientific dispute will be asked to appear. The dispute centers on a paper published in the journal Cell nearly three years ago.

The authors of that paper include David Baltimore, who is director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge and a Nobel Prize- winning biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a pathologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine; Moema Reis, now of the Instituto Biologico in Sao Paulo; David Weaver of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and two others.

Baltimore, who was on vacation yesterday and unavailable for comment, is expected to comply with Dingell's request. Last April, Dingell held a hearing on the same matter but did not ask the paper's authors to testify.

While the NIH cleared the team of some allegations, the panel said in its February report that it found "significant errors of misstatement and omission, as well as lapses in scientific judgment and interlaboratory communication," in the team's Cell report on experiments about genetic control of the immune sysem.

Dingell's decision to hold further hearings after the NIH report has further angered scientists already concerned about congressional inquiries into scientific matters. Some of them have coined a word to describe the congressman's determined pursuit of the issue: Dingelling.

Among the concerned scientists is one of Baltimore's MIT colleagues, Phillip A. Sharp, professor of biology, director of MIT's Center for Cancer Research and a winner of the 1988 Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Sharp criticized Dingell for ''persisting in this investigation" after three institutions -- MIT, Tufts and NIH -- have conducted investigations.

"All this is highly damaging to these scientists' careers and reputations. Fairness is one thing. We have far exceeded that. This can only be viewed as trying to tarnish Baltimore's reputation. It doesn't seem justified," Sharp said.

In a letter sent out to fellow scientists this week, Sharp urged them to write their congressmen and newspapers on behalf of Baltimore and scientists in general.

"It seems obvious," wrote Sharp, "that the congressional subcommittee has decided to continue to hassle David and the other authors and this has serious implications for all of us. It is believed that at this hearing, the Dingell subcommittee and staff will again try to prove that misconduct occurred, in spite of previous university and NIH reviews to the contrary."

A Dingell staff member yesterday said that the purpose of the May hearings is to investigate the adequacy of the "institutional responses" to early questions about the Cell paper.

In its report, the NIH panel said that a biochemical test "was not done but was claimed to have been done." The panel said that the "inaccuracies and clerical errors" were "serious enough" that published corrections should be made through a letter to Cell, even though the team had already sent one such letter to Cell.

That first letter, the NIH panel said, did "not deal with all the issues which require attention."

The original Cell paper became the focus of widespread media coverage about a year ago when a former graduate student in Imanishi-Kari's lab and a postdoctoral fellow testified at Dingell's first hearing. The former graduate student testified that Imanishi-Kari had committed fraud.

Their concerns were picked up by Walter Stewart and Ned Feder, two NIH scientists and self-styled "whistle blowers" concerned with scientific fraud and misconduct.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 19:50:19 EDT 2000