WHISTLE-BLOWER SAYS DATA USED IN SCIENTIFIC PAPER 'DID NOT EXIST'

Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 05/09/1989 Page: 11
Section: NATIONAL/FOREIGN

Margot O'Toole, the primary "whistle-blower" in the controversial case involving Nobel laureate David Baltimore, is expected to testify today in Washington that her own scientific career has been seriously damaged as a result of her challenge to a paper published three years ago in the journal Cell.

At the same time, other scientists are continuing their vigorous defense of Baltimore and his colleagues and their criticism of the role of Congress in what they consider a purely scientific debate.

The authors of the paper, who include Baltimore, head of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, and Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a pathologist at Tufts University School of Medicine, have characterized the dispute as a matter of differing interpretations of scientific evidence, differences which they see as the very stuff of scientific debate. O'Toole disagrees.

"My opponents in this dispute have convinced the scientific community that my differences with them involve alternative interpretations of data. This is not the case. I did not challenge the paper because I felt I had a better
interpretation of the data," she says in a statement she plans to submit with her testimony.

''I challenged the paper because it presented evidence that simply did not exist, period. This is not a complicated concept. It is one thing to believe that something is true. It is another to present experimental evidence in support of the claim. This is the crux of my dispute with the authors," O'Toole said in her statement, a copy of which was made available to The Boston Globe.

In her statement, O'Toole says that while she was a postdoctoral fellow in Imanishi-Kari's lab in May 1986, she was "reviewing the records for the mouse colony" a few weeks after the team's paper on genetic control of the immune system in mice appeared in Cell. "I ran across the records for one of the crucial experiments in the Cell paper. I knew it was the data for the published table because of the agreement of numbers in the records and the published paper.

"An examination of these records convinced me that the findings had been presented in a misleading fashion, and that a central claim of the paper might not be supported by experimental evidence," her testimony says.

O'Toole's statement then describes her attempts to get officials at Tufts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Imanishi-Kari then worked, to resolve her questions to her satisfaction.

Eventually, the National Institutes of Health also reviewed the case. In a report in February, the NIH panel cleared the authors of the most serious allegations, fraud, misconduct, manipulation of data and serious conceptual errors, but reopened its investigation on April 28 when new information developed by congressional investigators came to light.

The congressional investigation has outraged scientists, a number of whom have rallied to Baltimore's defense in a series of public statements.

As the journal Science characterizes it, the wrangling between the scientific community and congressional investigators is nothing less than "a clash of cultures."

This dispute shows, said Science in a recent article, "that despite a few notable exceptions, the scientific community does not really understand Congress, and perhaps vice versa."

The focus of most of the scientists' ire is John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigation. After the all-day hearing last Thursday on what he characterized as "the ability and will of major research institutions and the NIH to police themselves when concerns are raised about potential misconduct," Dingell said the committee's questions had still not been answered.

Dr. David Nathan, physician in chief at Children's Hospital in Boston, is critical of Dingell and supportive of Baltimore. In a letter to Dingell, circulated freely at last week's hearing, Nathan wrote, "Perhaps you and your staff are so busy hounding Dr. Baltimore that you don't have the time either to listen to the voices of scientists or to pay attention to the views of those who may not share your preconceived notions."

"Though you may see David Baltimore as a big fish who can attract television cameras to your cause, we see him as one of the most remarkable contributors to patient care whom we have ever known," Nathan continued.

But in the statement that she is expected to deliver today, O'Toole had a different message for Dingell:

"The scientific community has told you to stand aside while they decide whether I am right or wrong scientifically before you scrutinize their conduct. I thank you for your strong response that whether I am right or wrong, the process should be fair and thorough, that the issues will be settled on the basis of facts, not on the basis of who says I am wrong. . .

"To my fellow scientists who are outraged by the intervention of Congress in affairs controlled solely by scientists up until now, I say the following," O'Toole continued. "Please remember," that only friends and allies "take the time, trouble and considerable risk to point out when something is amiss."

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Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:40:54 EDT 2000