Five years ago, a junior researcher on a federally supported investigation of immune system behavior blew the whistle on what she thought were inaccuracies, misinterpretations and misjudgments in producing a paper for Cell, a scientific journal. Blowing the whistle may seem a fine tradition, but in the elite circles of science, where reputations, connections and image are so important, it cost the junior researcher, post-doctoral fellow Margot O'Toole, her laboratory job.
An outcry followed, if slow to build in intensity. Ms. O'Toole had met with David Baltimore, then head of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass.; David Weaver, lead author of the Cell paper; Herman Eisen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology immunologist and prober of Ms. O'Toole's contentions; and Thereza Imanishi-Kari, whose contributions to the paper were in dispute. That went nowhere, despite Ms. O'Toole's discovery of 17 pages of lab notes that showed that part of the experiment did not work as claimed.
Congress eventually became concerned. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., head of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, had the Secret Service check out the disputed lab notes, discovering that some of them could not have been written when claimed. Scientists all over rallied to denounce Mr. Dingell's "prosecutorial" inquiry, neatly overlooking Congress' responsibility to scrutinize closely the spending of public money. How dare Congress, or any lay group, presume to say what is valid scientific research and what is not?