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Scientist Falsified Data, Report Says

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Editor in Chief

The federal Office of Research Integrity released a report last Friday, finding researcher Thereza Imanishi-Kari guilty of 19 charges of scientific misconduct for work she had done at the Institute.

Imanishi-Kari "deliberately falsified research and then covered up her initial scientific misconduct with additional falsifications when the original data were challenged," according to a statement released by the Department of Health and Human services. The Office of Research Integrity is under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Imanishi-Kari was charged with fabricating data used in a paper published in the April 25, 1986 issue of Cell, in a letter of correction published in Cell soon after, and in two grant applications to the National Institutes of Health.

At the time, Imanishi-Kari was working under Professor of Biology David Baltimore '61. Baltimore left MIT to become president of Rockefeller University, and returned to the Institute this past spring.

Baltimore, a Nobel laureate, was one of the paper's co-authors, and had staunchly defended the paper since its publication. However, he and the other co-authors retracted the paper in spring 1991 when the NIH concluded that the data had been falsified. Baltimore was not accused of fraud himself, but has been criticized for not reviewing the case.

"I do not believe that Dr. Iminishi-Kari actually did the things that are charged in the report," Baltimore said yesterday.

"I'm disappointed that the report came to that conclusion," said Head of the Department of Biology Phillip A. Sharp. "I'm not privy to the material they have used to come to that conclusion; I'd like to see it on public display," he said.

The report says that Imanishi-Kari's article raised false hopes in the scientific community, and that other scientists could have wasted their time following-up on her studies. Other biologists have been unable to reproduce the results, according to the press release.

Imanishi-Kari's work showed that when a gene from one mouse strain was transplanted to another mouse strain, the second mouse strain produced high levels of antibodies that it would not have normally produced.

With the current charges, Imanishi-Kari cannot receive federal grants or contract money, or be able to participate in cooperative agreements for 10 years.

Imanishi-Kari has appealed the decision to the Human Health and Services Departmental Appeals Board.

"I am hopeful the appeal process will show the true situation," Baltimore said.

Federal funding pays for about 93 percent of the biology research done at the Institute, Sharp said. By not allowing a scientist to be federally-funded, "it's an exclusion from doing significant, skilled research," Sharp said.

This "makes it virtually impossible to continue in research, and I think that she'd almost have to leave the country [to be able to do research] if those findings are upheld," Baltimore said.

The federal office used three methods to come to their findings: a statistical analysis program showed that the data was consciously falsified to reach a certain result and that the errors were not made by chance; the Secret Service performed a forensic analysis on when the notations in the laboratory notebook were made; and the office relied on scientific evidence.