SCIENCE ON TRIAL by Judy Sarasohn

SCIENCE ON TRIAL

The Whistle-Blower, the Accused, and the Nobel Laureate
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Sarasohn, a Washington-based journalist for Legal Times, turns her attention to the notorious case in which a team led by Nobel laureate David Baltimore (Physiology, 1975) published a scientific paper later exposed as being built on fabricated data. The paper in question appeared in 1986 in the journal Cell and concerned the effect of transplanted genetic material on the immune systems of laboratory mice. The published results were seen as a breakthrough, with implications for the treatment of diseases such as lupus and AIDS. Then a research assistant on the team, Margot O'Toole, came forward claiming that she'd been unable to duplicate the results of a key experiment on which the article was based. Both her immediate superior on the project, Thereza Imanishi-Kari (who'd done the actual experiment) and Baltimore dismissed O'Toole's claims; when she would not withdraw them, she was effectively blackballed in the field. The subsequent fracas led to hearings on Capitol Hill, an investigation by the National Institutes of Health, and, in the end, the discrediting of both the Cell paper and its coauthors: Baltimore, who'd mounted an intense campaign of lobbying against the investigation, resigned as president of Rockefeller University. Sarasohn's focus here is on the personalities and politics of the scandal, rather than on the specifics of the science (which is well beyond the ability of most nonspecialists to judge). The narrative reads as a morality play exposing the arrogance of Baltimore and his defenders (as well as that of the Congressional investigators) and ending with the victory of scientific integrity and the vindication of O'Toole. Some heavy going in the inevitable discussions of the scientific evidence--but, on the whole, compelling and readable.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-09247-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993