Author: By Richard Saltus, Globe Staff

Date: 05/30/1991 Page: 6
Section: METRO

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, collaborated.

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," she said.

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.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:33:12 EDT 2000