WASHINGTON -- Capping one of the most bitter controversies in modern science, investigators for the National Institutes of Health have concluded that crucial data were fabricated in a 1986 scientific paper written by Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore and others. Dr. Baltimore asked yesterday that the paper be retracted.
The NIH investigators accuse one of Dr. Baltimore's co-authors, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a Tufts University immunologist, of "serious scientific misconduct" and of "repeatedly present[ing] false and misleading information" to them, according to a draft report of their findings obtained by the Boston Globe.
The investigators label Dr. Baltimore's five-year defense of the paper and Dr. Imanishi-Kari in the face of mounting criticism as "difficult to comprehend" and "deeply troubling."
Dr. Baltimore is now president of Rockefeller University in New York. At the time that the paper, dealing with the genetics of the immune system, was written, he was director of the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The draft report says that his behavior is "startling when one considers that Dr. Baltimore, by virtue of his seniority and standing, might have been instrumental in effecting a resolution of the concerns about the paper early on, possibly before Dr. Imanishi-Kari fabricated some of the data later found to be fraudulent."
In a telephone interview, Dr. Baltimore rejected the investigators' criticism of him but conceded for the first time that their findings "raise very serious questions about the veracity" of the paper and called for it to be withdrawn until they can be answered.
He said it was up to Dr. Imanishi-Kari to answer the specific
charges of fraud.
Dr. Imanishi-Kari referred all questions to her lawyer, Bruce A. Singal of Boston. Mr. Singal denied any wrongdoing by his client. "There is no evidence whatsoever of falsification or fabrication," he said.
Dr. Baltimore, Dr. Imanishi-Kari and David Weaver, a scientist with Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and another of the paper's authors, have 30 days to contest the draft report before it is put in final form.
If the finding of misconduct is sustained, the burden of responding will fall on Dr. Imanishi-Kari, whose data are at the center of the dispute.
NIH investigators now charge that:
* Some data produced by Dr. Imanishi-Kari for the original paper and other data used in a subsequent published correction were "fabricated."
* Substantial parts of a notebook of experimental results that Dr. Imanishi-Kari used to answer critics were "falsified."
In some cases, the investigators said, computer tapes that Dr. Imanishi-Kari said contained supporting data from experiments on mice were produced years before the Tufts scientist had the mice on which she was working.