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

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9780393041033: The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character
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The most significant clash of science and principle in our time-a dramatic witch hunt played out in the scientific arena. David Baltimore won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1975, at the age of thirty-seven. A leading researcher and a respected public figure, Baltimore rose steadily through the ranks of the scientific community; in 1990, he was named president of the world-renowned Rockefeller University. Less than a year and a half later, Baltimore was forced to resign amid public allegations of fraud. Daniel Kevles's penetrating investigation of what became known as the Baltimore case reveals a scientific inquisition in which Baltimore and Thereza Imanishi-Kari, former colleagues at MIT, were unjustly accused and vilified in the name of scientific integrity and the public trust. While never accused of wrongdoing himself, Baltimore had staunchly defended the work and integrity of Imanishi-Kari when her findings came under attack from postdoctoral fellow Margot O'Toole. Backed by fervent fraud-seekers at the National Institutes of Health, a congressman eager to unearth scientific misconduct, and a media gone out of control, O'Toole's whistle-blowing played perfectly to a public that did not fully understand the methods of science. Kevles's eloquent and absorbing work vindicates Baltimore and Imanishi-Kari after their decade-long battle. But Kevles also raises critical questions about the way science works and about the complex discord between the public's right to accountability and the scientist's need for autonomy in the laboratory.

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In a perfect world, science wouldn't be done by human beings, since despite our best efforts, we aren't truly objective about anything. When personality and emotion inevitably get mixed up with science, sparks can fly. The most notorious such conflagration in recent times was The Baltimore Case, a decade-long dispute between supposedly objective scientists that resulted in excruciating trials, sensational headlines, and damaged careers and lives. Historian Daniel Kevles tells the story of the accusations of fraud leveled by Margot O'Toole toward her colleagues, Thereza Imanishi-Kari and Nobel Prize-winner David Baltimore. Kevles first explains the controversial experimental results and the paper published outlining them. O'Toole was unable to reproduce the results of Imanishi-Kari and accused her of falsifying data, also implicating the high-profile Baltimore, coauthor of the original paper. In the following years, all participants in the investigation were subjected to dehumanizing, humiliating scrutiny--including a congressional inquiry not unlike a mini-witch-hunt--and nasty comments gleefully reported by a media eager for a big scientific scandal. Kevles comes down on the side of the self-admittedly sloppy Imanishi-Kari (who was officially exonerated in 1996) and Baltimore, painting O'Toole as a well-motivated but overenthusiastic watchdog manipulated by embarrassingly eager investigators. This book is a valuable lesson in how uneasily humanity and science share the laboratory. Even our best and brightest can be brought low by jealousy, carelessness, and deception. --Therese Littleton

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"The Baltimore Case" was shortlisted for the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Award in Science/Technology.

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9780393319705: The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character

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ISBN 10:  0393319709 ISBN 13:  9780393319705
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000
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