Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 05/03/1989 Page: 14

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 said.

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 unknown.

"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."

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:35:24 EDT 2000