BOSTON SCIENTISTS ARE CLEARED OF RESEARCH FRAUD
Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff
A team of Boston-based scientists that includes a Nobel laureate was
cleared yesterday by the National Institutes of Health of allegations of
research fraud, misconduct, manipulation of data and serious conceptual
But a specially convened NIH investigatory panel said it "found significant
errors of misstatement and omission, as well as lapses in scientific judgment
and interlaboratory communication," in a report that described experiments on
the genetic control of the immune system. In one case cited by the panel, a
biochemical test "was not done, but was claimed to have been done." The panel
added that the "inaccuracies and clerical errors" were "serious enough" that
corrections should be made through a letter in the journal Cell, which
published the original research nearly three years ago.
The long-awaited, approximately 175-page report may or may not be the end
of the episode that has rocked the scientific community, in part because it
involved David Baltimore, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical
Research in Cambridge and a Nobel prize-winning biologist.
Baltimore was part of a research team that included Thereza Imanishi-Kari,
a pathologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine, Moema Reis, now of
the Instituto Biologico in Sao Paolo, David Weaver of Boston's Dana-Farber
Cancer Institute, and two others.
In letters to the researchers accompanying the report, the director of the
NIH, Dr. James B. Wyngaarden, said the panel had "serious concerns" about the
blood tests used in the research, "which raise questions about the reliability
of these data and their interpretation."
Wyngaarden asked the researchers to submit to both the NIH and the journal
Cell further clarification of questions about the research. Though the team
already sent one such letter to Cell, which was published in November, that
letter "does not deal with all the issues which require attention," Wyngaarden
said. He said the second letter should be sent to him "prior to your sending
it to the journal, so that we may review it for completeness and accuracy."
Wyngaarden added, "It appears that even though the allegations have been
known to you and the other co-authors of the Cell paper at least since the
spring of 1986," the researchers "never met to consider seriously the
allegations or to reexamine the data to determine whether there might be some
basis for the allegation. Such an analysis on the part of the paper's co-
authors, followed by appropriate action to correct such errors of oversight,
may well have made a full investigation unnecessary."
Baltimore said, "I feel vindicated. The documents support my original
judgment that this research work would be a significant contribution to the
literature." The report, he said, has "put to rest accusations of improper
conduct and error."
However, in his prepared statement, Baltimore did not appear ready to
accept NIH's request for a further published clarification.
"If further clarification of the paper seems warranted, we will respond
appropriately, as would be the case with any scientific publication," said
Baltimore. "However, we do not see that either the scientific panel's report
or the 'decision memo' have identified such questions," he said, referring
to an internal NIH memo. Bruce Singal, Imanishi-Kari's lawyer, said yesterday:
''We are gratified that once again, there has been no finding of any fraud or
misconduct or manipulation of data. After reviews by Tufts, MIT and now NIH,
Dr. Imanishi-Kari has in our view been vindicated."
The original paper became the focus of widespread press coverage about a
year ago when a former graduate student in Imanishi-Kari's lab and a
postdoctoral fellow testified before a congressional subcommittee, the former
charging that Imanishi-Kari committed research fraud.
Their concerns were picked up by Walter Stewart and Ned Feder, two NIH
scientists and self-appointed "whistle-blowers" concerned with issues of
scientific fraud and misconduct.
In its report, the NIH panel said it was "unfortunate that, despite the
growing challenge to the validity of their research, the co-authors apparently
did not undertake a comprehensive review of their data until they met with the
NIH scientific panel."
Despite the NIH report, the episode may remain unresolved because a
parallel investigation has been under way by US Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.),
chairman of the House Commerce and Energy subcommittee on oversight and
A Dingell spokesman said yesterday that the case is "not over." While the
NIH report appears "adequate as far as it goes," the spokesman said, Dingell
has not decided whether to hold a further congressional hearing.