Originally Posted by wilsoncole
And who is it that hangs on doggedly to this "common and false idea?"
The public through a lack of education and Creationists through wilful misrepresentation. Though truth to tell, Gee does hint that even some biologists are prone to think in such terms, but that is not the fault of the theory.
What about dishonest scientists who sometimes get rewarded in spite of their exposed dishonesty?
Shenanigans in the Halls of Science
IT ISN’T supposed to happen. Not in the hallowed halls of science. Not where dispassionate, objective pursuers of truth labor tirelessly in their laboratories. Not where dedicated researchers, committed to finding truth regardless of where the search may lead, seek to unravel the secrets of nature. It is not supposed to happen in a united body of men and women fighting shoulder to shoulder to turn back the ravages of disease for the blessing of mankind.
Who would suspect that dedicated scientists such as these would manipulate their data to back their contentions? Or select what supports their theory and discard what doesn’t? Or record experiments they have never performed and falsify data to buttress conclusions they could not prove? Or report studies they had never made and claim authorship of articles they had never worked on or even seen? Who would ever suspect such shenanigans in the halls of science?
It isn’t supposed to happen, but it does. Last year a science magazine reported: “Kickbacks, fraud and misconduct are rife among American medical researchers
, according to a scathing critique published by a US Congressional committee this week. The report says that the National Institutes of Health has ‘endangered public health’ by failing to police the scientists it supports.”—New Scientist,
September 15, 1990.
Most of the cases consist of shenanigans called misconduct, but others are outright fraud. So it was labeled in the case of Dr. Thereza Imanishi-Kari and her five coauthors of a paper that “described the indirect insertion of a foreign gene into the immune cells of mice. The authors claimed that the mouse’s natural gene then began to mimic the inserted gene, producing a special antibody.” (Science News,
May 11, 1991) This would have been an important step in immune research, except for the fact that it apparently never happened
The report was published in April 1986 in Cell,
a scientific journal. Shortly afterward, Dr. Margot O’Toole, a junior researcher in molecular biology in Imanishi-Kari’s lab, said that the paper made claims that the data did not support. She went to Dr. David A. Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who was a coauthor of the research paper, with 17 pages of data from Imanishi-Kari’s notebooks. These pages showed that the experiment did not work, while the published paper said that it did
. Dr. Baltimore, however, found no reason to doubt the data and dismissed O’Toole as a “disgruntled postdoctoral fellow.”—The New York Times,
March 22, 1991.
That same year two universities reviewed the Cell
article. One was M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where the work was done; the other was Tufts University, where Imanishi-Kari was being considered for an important position. Their reviews found some problems but nothing serious. There the case rested for two years.
Then Representative John D. Dingell, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, took up the case. The government supports scientific research and, through NIH (National Institutes of Health), grants $8,000,000,000
a year to individual scientists and their institutions for research projects. Dingell’s subcommittee is interested in how effectively the people’s money is spent, and it investigates abuses.
Dr. Baltimore was very unhappy. He charged that the subcommittee, by taking up this case, “wishes to do away with the standard criteria and substitute a whole new standard for judging science. They have chosen a prosecutorial style. The message is that you do your science with an eye towards facing prosecution. If the hearing here today represents the Congressional view of how science should be done, then American science as we have known it is in trouble.”
Dr. Baltimore obtained support from sympathetic colleagues by sending a letter to 400 scientists warning that Congressional intervention could “cripple American science.” He called the inquiry a harbinger of threats to scientific communication and scientific freedom. Many from the scientific community rallied behind Baltimore, one of its brightest stars, calling the hearings a “witch hunt” and Dingell a “new McCarthy.”
“Supporters of Dr. Baltimore and his defense of the article responded with attacks on Congress,” The New York Times,
March 26, 1991, reported. “They criticized Mr. Dingell for prying into the notebooks of science, describing his panel with phrases like the ‘science police.’ Virtually every letter and article said there was no question of fraud, only of interpretation. ‘We were buried in letters from scientists expressing great concern with what we were doing,’ said one staff member of the Dingell subcommittee. ‘But in a large number of them, maybe half or more, there was a disclaimer saying they didn’t know what the facts of the case were. That is a little bizarre.’”
When emotions run high, facts may become irrelevant and fade into the background. The flood of letters in support of Dr. Baltimore and Dr. Imanishi-Kari criticized Congress in strong, emotional language. Dr. Stephen J. Gould of Harvard wrote: “In the light of recent developments in Washington, I’m not so sure that Galileo might not be in more trouble today.” Dr. Phillip A. Sharp of M.I.T. urged scientists to write their representatives in Congress protesting the action of this subcommittee. He asserted that it had “repeatedly rejected the judgment of qualified scientists” that no fraud was involved. Further, he claimed that it had embarked on “a vendetta against honest scientists” that would “cost our society dearly.” As it turned out, if a vendetta was involved, it was not against the honest scientists but against Dr. Margot O’Toole, whose honesty cost her dearly.
“As long as science proceeds relatively smoothly, it appears to be driven purely by reason and the answers given by nature in experiments. But when things go wrong, the human actors shed their masks of professional impassivity, and the emotional undercurrents of the scientific enterprise may suddenly emerge.” (The New York Times,
March 26, 1991) And when they do, forces outside science must also emerge to curtail the shenanigans and rectify the wrongs done to the whistle-blowers.
That is what was necessary in this case. Many in the scientific community, who never even bothered to examine the evidence, automatically sided with Dr. Baltimore and Dr. Imanishi-Kari and against Dr. O’Toole. Moreover, they vilified the government agency that had to step in to right the wrongs. It is reminiscent of the Bible proverb that says: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.”—Proverbs 18:13.
It was only after lengthy investigations by the Dingell subcommittee, the Secret Service, and the Office of Scientific Integrity at NIH that O’Toole’s charges were finally substantiated. New Scientist,
March 30, 1991, reported: “Investigators at the National Institutes of Health have concluded that a co-author of Nobel laureate David Baltimore fabricated entire sets of data from 1986 to 1988 to support a paper published in the journal Cell
in 1986. Baltimore, who earlier attacked a Congressional investigation into the affair as a threat to scientific freedom, has now asked Cell
to retract the paper.” He apologized to Dr. O’Toole for his failure to investigate her doubts more fully.
The investigations revealed that data were concocted by Dr. Imanishi-Kari and an experiment reported by her was never done, and as the noose tightened, she attempted a cover-up. “Once O’Toole and outside investigators began to ask questions about the paper,” New Scientist
said, Imanishi-Kari “began systematically fabricating data to support it, according to the NIH report. Some of these falsified data were published in Cell
in 1988 as corrections to the original paper.” On April 6, 1991, New Scientist
commented: “Scientists also need to recognise that self-regulation only works if it is based on public trust. Dismissing whistle-blowers as troublemakers does little to help that.” Weeks after all this evidence was in, however, Dr. Imanishi-Kari was still calling it all a “witch hunt.”
An editorial in The New York Times,
March 26, 1991, questioned it under the title “A Scientific Watergate?” It said: “The most damning indictment should be lodged against the scientific community’s weak-kneed mechanisms for investigating fraud. Faced with stonewalling by Dr. Baltimore, one of the nation’s most prominent scientists, several investigative panels seemed more intent on smothering bad publicity than digging out the truth.” Yet, it is this same scientific community that says it should investigate itself rather than be investigated by outsiders.
The editorial continued: “The initial investigations of Dr. O’Toole’s complaints smacked of an old-boy network drawing up the wagons to protect scientific reputations. Investigations at Tufts University and M.I.T. found no fraud or even major error. The National Institutes of Health appointed an investigating panel with close ties to Dr. Baltimore. Even after the panel was reconstituted to mollify critics, it produced a shuffle-footing report, finding no evidence of misconduct despite the fact that an experiment had been reported that was never actually performed.
Only after Congress became involved did the N.I.H. begin to display some backbone. Its new Office of Scientific [Integrity] produced the gritty and damning report that finally calls a fabrication a fabrication. Dr. Baltimore has, from the start, seemed more intent on squelching inquiry than getting to the bottom of the charges. Although he has not himself been accused of fraud, he signed two documents—the original paper and a follow-up correction—containing data now deemed to have been fabricated by Dr. Imanishi-Kari.”
Scientists are unhappy if anyone outside the scientific community passes judgment on their activities
. They are adamant that they, not outsiders and certainly not government agencies, are the ones who should judge their own cases where misconduct or fraud is charged. But anyone within the scientific community who dares to raise questions against prominent members may fare badly, as did Margot O’Toole.
The fortunes of the principals involved in this case prove the point. Dr. Baltimore became president of Rockefeller University. Dr. Imanishi-Kari got the prestigious position she sought at Tufts University. Dr. O’Toole lost her job in the laboratory at Tufts, lost her house, could get no other employment in science for years, and had to take work answering telephones at her brother’s moving company.
Dr. Baltimore reportedly told subcommittee chairman Dingell that disputes such as the Imanishi-Kari matter were part of “a process of self-purification that goes on continuously” in science. In this case the “purification” consisted of the elimination of honest scientist Dr. Margot O’Toole from even working in the field of science. Fortunately, however, this “purification” in her case was not permanent. Four years later, in 1990, after her vindication, she did get a job in science when she was hired by Genetics Institute, a company founded by one of her few supporters, Mark Ptashne of Harvard.
Most people agree that such shenanigans should not happen in the halls of science, yet it was a science magazine itself that carried the report that such shenanigans “are rife among American medical researchers.”
(AW 91 11/22 pp. 12-15)
Why the outrage and public outcry?
What do you call those tactics?
Why didn't the peer-review system work in this case?
How often has it failed to work?
No longer the case? How can you tell?
Lesson: We should not put faith in humans.
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