The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character

Daniel Kevles, Author
Daniel Kevles, Author W. W. Norton & Company $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-393-04103-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In this gripping tale of high-stakes research science colliding with headline-grabbing congressional investigations, careers and reputations are part of the wreckage. Kevles (The Physicists, etc.), a professor of humanities and scientific policy at CIT, takes readers into the esoteric realm of molecular biology to explore one of the most controversial ethical cases in modern scientific history. In 1986, David Baltimore, a 1975 Nobel laureate in medicine, coauthored a research paper on gene transfer in Cell magazine with a former MIT associate, Thereza Imanishi-Kari. When a postdoctoral fellow in Imanishi-Kari's lab could not duplicate the results of the experiment as described in the article, then made her concerns public, charges of fraud began to erupt that eventually involved scientists at Harvard, Tufts, MIT and the National Institutes of Health. According to Kevles's report, scientific gadflies at the NIH, in concert with an egoistic congressional committee chairman and moralizing scientists, opened a decade-long witch hunt that split the academic science community and nearly destroyed the professional lives of Baltimore and Imanishi-Kari. This analysis of a scandal within a scandal, which includes a brief account of the disputed experiment, breaches the high walls of science and politics for a close-up look at the dispute, with Kevles's fast-paced journalistic style rendering a recondite subject immediate and accessible for the lay reader. Photos. Agent, Ronald Goldfarb. (Sept.)