Scientists on a 'witch hunt'? Gallo's accusers: Detractors want to deny him $9 million for Baltimore virology center.

November 14, 1995

THERE'S A "TRUTH SQUAD" nipping at Dr. Robert C. Gallo's heels. At the moment, its four members are pressing furiously to stir up a hornet's nest in the state legislature about the famed scientist's Center for Human Virology, set to open in January. But these critics are confusing scientific etiquette with economic development. Their dispute with Dr. Gallo has little to do with the world-class institute he plans to run, with state and city financial support, in Baltimore.

Dr. Gallo, generally regarded as the co-discoverer of the AIDS virus, says these critics are on a "witch hunt." The controversy revolves around the researcher's ethics -- or lack of ethics -- in giving credit -- or failing to give credit -- to French scientists for their role in the AIDS virus discovery. Critics accuse him of "scientific misconduct." The researcher says prior inquiries have vindicated him.

Based on these charges, the critics want the governor and state lawmakers to reject $9 million promised to Dr. Gallo's Baltimore virology center. But should an unresolved scientific dispute that began more than 10 years ago be a determining factor in Maryland's efforts to bring jobs and prominence to Baltimore?

The answer is no. The Gallo center is already drawing world-class scientists to Baltimore. Given the reputation of its initial researchers, more top-flight virologists will follow. This, in turn, could catapult the city into the vanguard of biotechnology research and lead to spin-off drug manufacturing facilities. Such exciting potential fully justifies the state and city financial support.

Three other states were chasing after Dr. Gallo's institute, and they were offering far more financial support. All of them recognized the value of having a first-of-its-kind virology center in their back yard. Baltimore came out the winner. Now General Assembly leaders should put their stamp of approval on this cutting-edge biotechnology research facility. They should look to the future and not to the past in assessing Dr. Gallo's value to Maryland.

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