GENESIS OF GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT[index]
According to an article by John Crewdson on page C-1 of the November 14, 1993 issue of the Chicago Tribune, until recently, a scientist caught fudging data experienced the modern-day equivalent of the old English custom of leaving the miscreant alone in a room with a loaded pistol. Mr. Crewdson says that no one ever heard the shot, but fails to point out that few bodies were found afterwards. And those were almost always the remains of graduate or post doctoral students .
The current public debate about scientific misconduct received impetus in the early 80's when the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich), began its misconduct investigations. According to the Crewdson article, Congressman Dingell demanded that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) root out science fraud. NIH responded by creating the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), a sort-of scientific Star Chamber manned by scientists investigating scientific misconduct. OSI was even less popular than the Star Chamber, and scientists began hiring lawyers.
Congressman Dingell outlined some of his thoughts about the subcommittee investigations in the 102nd Shattuck Lecture, which he presented to the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Medical Society in Boston on May 9, 1992.
One of the first cases to capture the subcommittee's attention was the NIH-funded research of Dr. John Darsee of Harvard Medical School. According to Congressman Dingell, Dr. Darsee was investigated first by his department chairman and then by a committee of scientists appointed by the Harvard dean. Both reviewed Dr. Darsee's data and reported no misconduct in Darsee's published research. Then a committee appointed by NIH investigated and concluded that data for some of Dr. Darsee's published experiments did not exist.
Another early case investigated by the subcommittee involved Professor Stephen E. Breuning at the University of Pittsburgh. According to Congressman Dingell, Dr. Breuning's research publications during 1979 to 1983 caused substantial changes in treatment protocols for retarded children, until his mentor, Dr. Robert Sprague, raised questions about the integrity of Dr. Breuning's research in a letter to NIH. The University of Pittsburgh investigated and found no problem. But according to Congressman Dingell, Dr. Sprague's allegations were eventually verified in almost every detail, and Dr. Breuning eventually pled guilty to two felonies and served time in a halfway house.
Perhaps the best known scientific misconduct charges were that a research paper in Cell co-authored by Dr. Thereza Imanishi-Kari, Nobel laureate Dr. David Baltimore, and others relied on data that were falsified. According to Congressman Dingell, the scientists at both Tufts and MIT contended that "the paper was virtually error-free" and "could not be corrected because any correction would damage Dr. Imanishi-Kari's career and because the scientific literature was so full of error anyway that one more error would not matter." Dr. Baltimore was investigated by OSI, and eventually retracted the Cell paper.
However, the tempest involving Dr. Imanishi-Kari continues to boil. According to an article on page C-3 of the July 14, 1992 issue of the New York Times, the grand jury investigating Dr. Imanishi-Kari will not indict her; the prosecutor, feels that the case is "too complex to take to court." And, on the same date, an article on page A-3 of the Washington Post reported that Dr. Baltimore claims vindication and plans to "unretract" the Cell paper. In his response to the Shattuck Lecture, Dr. Baltimore cites seven research papers (including two 1993 papers by Dr. Imanishi-Kari and others in the Journal of Immunology) that he claims support and extend the original findings of the Cell paper.
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