The Assault on David Baltimore

April 13, 2008 at 7:53 am | | science and the public, science community, scientific integrity

All NIH fellows have to take a course on Ethical Scientific Conduct, so I’ve become quite familiar with all the rights of lab rats. Never mind that down in the subway, just a few floors below the 24hr rat veterinary facility, they’re throwing rodenticide out like candy wrappers.

Amidst the jetsam of the course’s various “case studies” we sometimes get an interesting nugget; the David Baltimore affair was one of them.  Its a very interesting case because of the grayness of the accusations and the high level of the involved parties (Baltimore is a Nobel laureate and was president of Rockefeller at the time). Eventually, Congress and the Secret Service got involved!

If anyone is interested, checkout a New Yorker article about the case (abstract only). I’ve just ordered a book (ISBN: 0393041034) by the author of the New Yorker piece. Another excellent overview can be found in this Ethics & Behavior article.


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  1. It’s a very interesting case. From your title it sounds like you think the criticism of Baltimore was excessive or misguided?

    The full text of the Ethics and Behavior article is available here:

    Comment by Andre — April 13, 2008 #

  2. yeah, ilya. i’m not sure how you can defend Baltimore’s approach to this issue; he didn’t really handle it well at all. he defended falsifying notebooks because they were “driven to it” by the investigation. bah!

    Comment by sam — April 14, 2008 #

  3. after reading the article Andre links to above, i think just about everybody handled this very poorly. baltimore and the other profs should have quickly written a brief correction to the journal; o’toole should have treaded a little more carefully to avoid allegations of fraud; the profs she went to for help should have backed her up appropriately; critics of baltimore et al. should have approached them better to avoid hurt egos; and the government should have relaxed a little and probably should have stayed out.

    Comment by sam — April 14, 2008 #

  4. Thanks for the link!

    Comment by Ilya — April 16, 2008 #

  5. Actually, I took the title directly from the New Yorker article (see link above) that was written before the affair was settled.

    My opinions are mixed. Baltimore’s actions went overboard, as did those of O’Toole. The government should have never gotten involved at the congressional inquiry level. A lot of precedents were set as a result so hopefully this situation will not repeat itself. If anything, the lesson to learn is that we have to be very saavy as scientists when dealing with alleged fraud within the community or else it will explode in everybody’s faces.

    My $0.02 (not inflation adjusted)

    Comment by Ilya — April 16, 2008 #

  6. Sounds like you have already decided he is guilty. Guess we had all better look out, huh.

    Comment by T — June 11, 2009 #

  7. I don’t think anyone here is saying he’s guilty … or 100% innocent. T, who are you replying to?

    Comment by sam — June 11, 2009 #

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