THE WHISTLEBLOWER ON FRAUD AT MIT

Author: Date: 03/25/1991 Page: 14
Section: EDITORIAL PAGE
Through all of the uproar about the validity of a biology research study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, little concern was shown for the junior researcher, Dr. Margot O'Toole, who blew the whistle on an erring senior colleague. For raising questions about the work, she was pilloried.

Inquiries have focused on the ethical judgment of Dr. David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who was head of the MIT laboratory when the work was done and who as senior adviser on the disputed research signed the report. More attention should be directed to his role in the abysmal treatment of O'Toole.

Because she insisted -- correctly as it turns out -- that data on a portion of the research which was conducted by her boss, Dr. Thereza Imanishi- Kari, was false, O'Toole paid dearly. A New York Times story states: "She lost her job and her house and feared that her husband's job was in jeopardy as well. She took work answering phones at her brother's moving company."

Though Baltimore wrote her off during the ensuing controversy as a ''disgruntled postdoctoral fellow," the National Institutes of Health concludes from its investigation of the research fraud that O'Toole is a hero. ''Notwithstanding the losses and costs she incurred," the NIH findings point out, "Dr. O'Toole maintained her commitment to scientific integrity."

Just as she never wavered on scientific principle, she stood her ground in 1985, when she saw an Asian man being beaten on a Boston street by a plainclothes detective. After getting the names of other witnesses, she brought the incident to the attention of city authorities and the police officer was suspended.

In the MIT case, Dr. Baltimore did worse than err in his prolonged defense of the research against what he chose to regard as government intrusion. He wronged Dr. O'Toole for abiding by the fundamental canon of science -- to give credence only to material that is proven to be accurate. And to stand by those who do so.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:20:52 EDT 2000