The difference between making a mistake and committing fraud is one of intention, and it’s often a fine and obscure line.
That became clear in 1989, when Congress opened hearings into alleged misconduct by Thereza Imanishi-Kari, an assistant in the lab of Nobel laureate David Baltimore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1985, Baltimore and Imanisi-Kari had published a paper describing their success in injecting a mouse with a gene that altered its immune system so the animal could produce antibodies against a given bacteria or virus. The findings raised the possibility that the human immune system could be modified in the same way, enhancing our ability to ward off infections.
A postdoctoral fellow working in the lab failed to reproduce the results, however, and those concerns eventually led to the Congressional hearings in which Baltimore staunchly defended the work. Imanishi-Kari was found guilty of scientific fraud and Baltimore’s reputation was tarnished by association, leading him to resign from his new position as president of Rockefeller University.
In 1996, however, an appeals board of the National Institutes of Health re-analyzed the case and determined that the paper did not contain fraudulent data, but errors that both co-authors later acknowledged. Imanishi-Kari was exonerated and Baltimore went on to helm California Institute of Technology.
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