An engrossing account, expanded from a New Yorker piece, of how a dispute over an obscure immunology paper snowballed,...

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"THE BALTIMORE CASE: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character"

An engrossing account, expanded from a New Yorker piece, of how a dispute over an obscure immunology paper snowballed, becoming a federal witch hunt into scientific fraud. At the heart of the imbroglio, according to Caltech science historian Kevles (In the Name of Eugenics, 1985), was a postdoctoral fellow named Margot O'Toole, who could not get a reagent to work as described in a 1986 paper co-authored by her boss, Thereza Imanishi-Kari. Convinced that Imanishi-Kari was in error, O'Toole pushed Tufts and M.I.T. faculty to investigate the research. She kept escalating the attack, eventually charging fraud and implicating the paper's eminent co-author, Nobel laureate David Baltimore. Two independent fraud-busters, Walter Stewart and Ned Feder, teamed with Congressman John Dingell to make a federal case out of it. In grotesque detail, Kevles shows how biased investigations by Congress and the National Institutes of Health combined with leaked documents and an unskeptical press to convict the principals ""in the court of public opinion"" despite a stunning lack of good evidence. Imanishi-Kari lost her tenure-track job; Baltimore, condemned for ""arrogance"" in defending her, was forced to resign as president of Rockefeller University. O'Toole was lionized as a courageous whistleblower, with no one noticing the paranoia in such statements as, ""They're all lying."" Though Kevles early declares his belief in Imanishi-Kari's innocence, he objectively presents all sides of the dispute. His research is exhaustive, his clean style mostly free of judgmental phrases; instead, he allows the principals to hang or prove themselves with their own statements. The science behind the dispute is never thoroughly made clear, but the legal and social drama is sharp, right to the denouement in which a 1996 appeal decision officially exonerates Imanishi-Kari, and by extension Baltimore. Combining scholarly meticulousness with journalistic flair, the book is a page-turner that speaks to the dangers of government power and media one-sidedness.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0393319709

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998