BALTIMORE DISPUTES CHARGES HE KNEW ABOUT FORGED DATA
Author: By Richard Saltus, Globe Staff
Key figures in what has become one of the nation's longest running
controversies over alleged research fraud are exchanging another round of
cross fire today in a leading scientific journal.
Nobel laureate David Baltimore says in a statement published in the journal
Nature that a whistle-blower to whom he recently issued an apology has now
''directly attacked my honesty and integrity" by alleging that he knew about
falsified data used to back up a 1986 research paper he co-authored.
The former MIT biologist and director of the Whitehead Institute in
Cambridge said that he was not aware, until it was revealed in March by a
federal probe, that a colleague, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, had fabricated data in
connection with the research paper on which she and Baltimore, among others,
Earlier this month, Baltimore apologized to the whistle-blower, Margot
O'Toole, for not taking her more seriously in 1986, when she told him that
Imanishi-Kari's records of laboratory experiments did not bear out claims made
in the paper they jointly published.
The concerns of O'Toole, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in Imanishi-Kari's
lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were studied by an MIT panel
that pronounced them groundless. The National Institutes of Health's Office of
Scientific Integrity later took up the case at the instigation of Rep. John
Dingell, Democrat of Michigan.
The federal investigation concluded this year that, in addition to the
discrepancies noted by O'Toole, Imanishi-Kari was guilty of outright
fabrication of data. That data was supplied to the investigating agency in
1989 and also contributed to a letter of correction that Baltimore and the
other co-authors submitted to the journal Cell to amend the paper published
three years earlier.
In a statement earlier this month in Nature, O'Toole said she warned
Baltimore about the 1989 fabrication by Imanishi-Kari. Responding in today's
Nature, Baltimore said O'Toole's comment "contains new charges that are
different from her original constructive questions on matters of science, and
also includes certain overstatements and errors."
O'Toole, in an interview yesterday, said, "He can say he was confused, he
can say he doesn't remember, he can say whatever he likes, but the point is I
was there" when Imanishi-Kari "admitted there were no further tests" to
support a key assertion in the research paper. "And if he had forgotten it, I
reminded him of it."
O'Toole said that the discrepancies she pointed out should have led
Baltimore to suspect the data Imanishi-Kari submitted for the letter of
correction, but said he chose to believe other scientists who said Imanishi-
Kari's documentation was sound.
Baltimore disputed O'Toole's recently published account, also published in
Nature, and said he had not been present at meetings where O'Toole said
Imanishi-Kari admitted she had not carried out experiments on which her data
was supposedly based.
And Baltimore, going back over ground intensely argued in the long-running
controversy, also characterized as "irrelevant" the 17 pages of Imanishi-
Kari's laboratory notes that O'Toole read in 1986 and said led her to
suspect a problem with the research paper.
He said the data in the 17 pages had to do with a mouse that had been
incorrectly identified as normal when in fact it had been given a foreign
gene. "Data on truly normal mice were generated, and it was those findings
that were used in the paper," Baltimore wrote.
O'Toole, however, challenged that point yesterday. "What Baltimore does not
reveal to the reader is that when the authors finally produced the data for
the normal mouse, that data was unaminously found to be fraudulent" by the NIH
investigators, she said.
"He continues to try to portray the evidence he saw as irrelevant, and yet"
the NIH investigators "knew they were the data for the central claim of the
published experiment," said O'Toole.
On another point, Baltimore denied O'Toole's claim that he had led
''attacks" on her "competence and motives." He said he had told the
investigating office that "her analyses were insightful, her expressions of
concern were proper and appropriate, and her motives were pure."
The whistle-blower also disputed Baltimore on that point, saying the
''public disparagement" had come in "all those articles and testimonies and
speeches saying I was upset because the authors wouldn't rewrite their paper,"
Accompanying Baltimore's statement in today's Nature were comments by Dr.
Herbert Eisen, who conducted the MIT inquiry of O'Toole's charges in 1986, and
Imanishi-Kari. Eisen accused O'Toole of inaccurate statements and gross
misrepresentations of events surrounding the inquiry, and Imanishi-Kari
challenged the federal probe, pointing out what she said are holes in the
forensic evidence showing she had doctored laboratory notebooks.