WHISTLE-BLOWER SAYS DATA USED IN SCIENTIFIC PAPER 'DID NOT EXIST'
Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff
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
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
"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
''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
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
"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
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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