SCIENCE CASE: WHO KNEW WHAT WHEN?
AS HEARING NEARS, ISSUE IS NARROWED TO ERROR VS. FRAUD
Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff
What did the scientists know and when did they know it?
That question appears to be emerging as a key to the tangle of issues
facing a congressional subcommittee tomorrow as it delves into questions of
scientific error and fraud.
That panel, headed by Rep. John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who is
chairman of a House Commerce and Energy subcommittee, will question a team of
Boston scientists that includes David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who heads
the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, and Thereza
Imanishi-Kari, a pathologist at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Last night, in a speech in Washington before a group of local science
journalists, Baltimore sought to distinguish mere error, which can occur in
any research and which this team has acknowledged, albeit belatedly, from
conscious fraud. Baltimore also insisted that Imanishi-Kari, whose actions are
at the heart of the dispute, has done no wrong.
Baltimore also characterized the federal investigation into the case as a
''charade" that "makes a mockery of the scientific process."
"I should consider," Baltimore said in a text of the speech,"that the
errors discussed here must be distinguished from fraud or misrepresentation. I
would consider fraud the conscious use of data that did not emanate from the
described experimental setup or the conscious misrepresentation of
appropriately collected data.
"The word 'conscious' is crucial here because unconsciously, either of
these forms of error could be made and should not be considered fraud," he
A year ago, a researcher who had been an MIT graduate student in
Imanishi-Kari's lab, Charles Maplethorpe, testified that he believed she did
commit fraud. Maplethorpe based his belief on a conversation he overhead in
which Imanishi-Kari participated.
In February, a panel from the National Institutes of Health cleared the
team of fraud charges. Last Friday, however, NIH re-opened its investigation
because of new evidence uncovered by Dingell's staff.
In a separate prepared statement, Baltimore spoke of other issues that he
said are likely to surface at tomorrow's hearings.
Baltimore stressed, for instance, that Imanishi-Kari -- the real focus of
the questioning, though Baltimore has been the primary public spokesman --
worked independently from him.
"She is an independent investigator, so I did not question her closely
about data and only occasionally saw samples. It would have been inappropriate
to quiz her closely, implying a lack of trust," he said.
In his defense of Imanishi-Kari, Baltimore says that "while American
science is the real victim here, Professor Imanishi-Kari is also being
victimized. She is an immigrant; English is her fourth language, after
Portuguese, Japanese and Finnish.
"She has difficulty communicating in English, as the history of this
controversy painfully shows. Now the forces of the Congress and the Secret
Service are arrayed against her."
Dingell's staff asked Secret Service forensic experts to examine Imanishi-
Kari's laboratory data. According to congressional sources, the Secret Service
concluded that the written records of her data had been altered.
In his speech last night, however, Baltimore said his team will show their
findings "can be explained by the usual procedures of the scientific
investigation process. The problem is we don't know what they have found and
are faced with the necessity of trying to defend ourselves against the
"I do know that I found nothing seriously disturbing in what they showed
me," he added of the Secret Service.
He also criticized an NIH staff member, Walter Stewart, who has been
working with Dingell's staff on the case. Stewart "and those who support him
want to regiment science, not regulate it," he said. "In their world, the
truly creative would be driven from science or from America."