EXONERATED MIT NOBEL LAUREATE LASHES OUT

Author: By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff

Date: 10/29/1996 Page: A3

Section: National/Foreign

CAMBRIDGE -- Nobel laureate David Baltimore, his career ravaged by a decade-long scientific fraud case that was only recently judged baseless, yesterday called for major changes in how government and academia pursue alleged misconduct and blasted ``self-appointed fraud police'' who presume scientists are guilty until proven innocent.

In his first extended public comments on the case, Baltimore, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of immunology and molecular biology, also had harsh words for his critics, calling them ``scurrilous,'' ``pernicious,'' ``bulldogs'' and ``out of control.'' He contended that rivals at Harvard University, whom he would not name, had fanned the attacks on him.

``We need to return to the presumption that [scientific] fraud is rare, and when it involves a major issue it is easily detected,'' Baltimore said to an audience of 250 people at MIT. ``I do not believe that fraud police in Washington serve anyone's interests. Trust is still at the basis of science and always will be.''

Baltimore, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1975, was thrust into the heart of a controversy over research conducted by a colleague, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, in a 1986 paper they and other researchers published in the journal Cell.

In defending Imanishi-Kari against charges first brought by colleague Margot O'Toole that data in her research were suspicious, Baltimore battled top leaders of Congress, the Secret Service and federal investigators. In 1990 the controversy forced him from the presidency of Rockefeller University.

In June, an appeals board of the US Department of Health and Human Services cleared Imanishi-Kari of all charges related to the case, rejecting earlier findings by the Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity that Imanishi-Kari had faked data.

Many of Baltimore's harshest comments yesterday were reserved for Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who held several high-profile hearings on the case, which he called a major example of fraud in federally aided science research.

``Dingell's pride and reputation was heavily invested . . . in looking for an opportunity to prove that [the National Institutes of Health] did not know how to handle fraud,'' Baltimore said. ``He had investigators trying to scare us or even buy us off'' -- a charge on which Baltimore declined to elaborate.

Dingell could not be reached last night. In a July column in the Washington Post, he defended his probe, saying it had spurred universities to adopt better procedures to attack fraud.

Referring to investigators in the HHS fraud office, Baltimore denounced them as ``self-appointed fraud-busters'' and said one had engaged in ``the scurrilous rantings of a woman totally out of control.''

``They were willing to start, I believe, with an assumption of guilt. Some scientists, particularly in groups centered at Harvard University, mercilessly attacked me. Their presumption of guilt seems to have come from personal and political considerations. They certainly did not approach the question with an open mind,'' Baltimore said, declining to name names.

Appearing in a panel discussion at MIT's Wong Auditorium, Baltimore said his and others' experiences prove that when investigators ``approach with a preconceived notion of fraud,'' they will find it -- even though ``frauds of a serious nature are so rare'' in scientific research and are usually exposed and corrected by follow-up research.

Although Imanishi-Kari was cleared of any charges of fraud, the reports found -- and she and Baltimore have long acknowledged -- that there were significant errors in their data, but none serious enough to challenge the basic findings.

The research involved work on genetically engineered mice that suggested possible ways of transferring from person to person genes to provide resistance to diseases.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:23:58 EDT 2000