Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 04/24/1991 Page: 13
Section: METRO


David Baltimore, the Rockefeller University president and Nobel laureate embroiled in a case of scientific fraud involving a former colleague, appears this week to be stepping up efforts to clear his name.

But as he does, debate in academic circlesis intensifying over Baltimore's role. For five years he defended a colleague who was found by a National Institutes of Health investigatory panel to have fabricated her data.

To defend himself, Baltimore is reported to have hired Benjamin Civiletti, an attorney general in the Carter administration. On Monday, Civiletti and a colleague, Gerry Treanor, met with the staff of Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who has been spearheading the congressional investigation. The NIH is also continuing its investigation.

Baltimore also drafted a response to the NIH panel, which he read to about 40 senior faculty members at Rockefeller University on Monday, asking them for comments. The statement offers an olive branch to Dingell and to the ''whistleblower" in the case, faculty members said. But they said the statement stopped short of an admission of blame.

Dingell's staff declined to comment yesterday on Monday's discussions, and Civiletti and Treanor did not return telephone calls. However, Dingell plans more hearings into the case in June and July.

A Rockefeller University spokesman issued a statement yesterday saying that ''the university will pay for the legal services required by Dr. Baltimore at no cost to the government."

Last week, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, which Baltimore headed before going to Rockefeller, refunded to the Treasury $68,000 in federal research funds that it said had been used to pay some of Baltimore's legal expenses. Whitehead is affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rockefeller faculty members said Baltimore's statement appeared to be a sincere effort to explain all sides of case. Baltimore is expected to submit a statement to NIH investigators soon.

In March, an NIH panel concluded in a draft report that Baltimore's former colleague, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, fabricated data in a 1986 scientific paper. Baltimore, the main author of the scientific paper, and Imanishi-Kari, who now works at the Tufts University School of Medicine, have until the first week of May to submit written comments on the draft report. The NIH later will release its final report. CORRECTION: Because of editing errors, the Globe incorrectly characterized Nobel laureate David Baltimore's role in a controversial 1986 scientific paper and incorrectly described the fabrication of data related to that paper. He was a co-author of that paper; the fabricated data was supplied to a National Institutes of Health panel investigating the case.

Constantine Guolianos, a professor of physics at Rockefeller who was present at Monday's meeting, said: "It was a nice meeting. He was concerned very much about the case, . . .about the impact it has had on science, . . .about the good name of science and of the university." He added that Baltimore tried to understand "the point of view" of the whistleblower "who came to him. He tried to understand the government's position, how to give justice to everybody's position."

James Darnell, vice president for academic affairs at Rockefeller, who attended the meeting, called it a "calm" session attended by most of the school's small but elite tenured faculty. Some faculty members, he said, still have "deep concerns" about the case.

When a faculty member asked if Baltimore planned to resign, Baltimore reportedly said no. Richard Furlaud, chairman of the Rockefeller board and president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., was emphatic in a telephone interview yesterday that "the trustees have total and complete confidence in him. We certainly hope he would stay on. It has never been suggested that he wouldn't."

Elsewhere in the academic world, debate over Baltimore's role continues to intensify.

Concerned about fabricated data and retaliation against scientists like Margot O'Toole, the whistleblower, who raised questions about the scientific validity of the 1986 paper, Yale University mathematician Serge Lang has sent a mailing to 260 academics and others on the Baltimore case.

"My mailings document a number of serious transgressions of the traditional norms of scientific behavior by several scientists, not just David Baltimore," Lang said yesterdayin a telephone interview. "If scientists expect society to let them police themselves then, they must reestablish their credibility."

Similar sentiments were expressed Monday at a Brandeis University debate.

John Edsall, a retired Harvard professor, said that because the Tufts professors who investigated the case were in the process of hiring Imanishi- Kari away from MIT, they were clearly "in a position of conflict of interest" regarding the initial criticism of her research data. Both Tufts and MIT investigated the case and found no serious wrongdoing. Dingell subsequently stepped in.

Dr. Bernard Davis, a retired professor at Harvard Medical School, questioned whether the intense public scrutiny of an eminent scientist like Baltimore is "good for society." "In science, some people are a lot more important than others." When asked if this meant David Baltimore was more important than Margot O'Toole, Davis said, "Not as a human being. But some people can make more important contributions and the loss of these contributions is large."

Among the scientists who spoke at the Brandeis session was Mark Ptashne, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard, who said scientists should not have sided blindly with Baltimore but should have ''found out what the hell was going on. That's what David Baltimore did not do."

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:19:57 EDT 2000