Did John Dingell create the controversy

The publicity given to John Dingell has prompted some to portray him as a villain who singlehandedly created this political controversy, probably dislikes scientists, and does not favour federal support for science. Yet, during most of his legislative career, Representative Dingell has fought tirelessly against fraud, waste, and abuse in all government-contracting activities. If federal funds are misspent, then scientists and their university employers look no different to him than dishonest defence contractors or bank executives. In fact, like most members of Congress, Dingell is intensely supportive of the scientific enterprise, working to increase research funding for his region and for particular topics.22

In April 1988, however, the politicians' disappointment was growing with every new instance of unethical conduct. On 11 April, scientists who had "blown the whistle" on fraudulent research described to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations how they had been vilified by colleagues and senior administrators and how the investigations prompted by their allegations had been repeatedly delayed at all levels.23 The next day, at a hearing of another congressional committee, this time chaired by John Dingell, two young biologists, Margot O'Toole and Charles Maplethorpe, testified about how they had questioned research conducted in the MIT laboratory of Thereza Imanishi-Kari and published in an article in Cell.24 Because one of the paper's co-authors was Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, journalists exploited the news that both Imanishi-Kari and Baltimore had dismissed O'Toole's initial queries about the data and discouraged her from raising questions formally or publicly. The "Baltimore case" (as it came to be known, although the specific accusations of misconduct were lodged against Imanishi-Kari not Baltimore) showed that even famous, well-regarded scientists could not avoid intense congressional scrutiny.25'26 Maplethorpe testified that: "I felt that if I pursued the case at MIT and nothing happened then I would be the one to suffer."24 Such statements naturally led journalists to speculate about potential cover-ups.

At the end of the hearing, Dingell gave notice that congressional inquiries would continue: "We are going to be visiting again about these matters," he promised.27 Within days, quite by coincidence, another sensational episode became public. On 15 April 1988, psychologist Stephen J Breuning was indicted in federal court and charged with falsifying research project reports to the National Institute of Mental Health.28-30 Scientists could no longer credibly argue - as they had at the 1981 hearing - that fraud was "not a problem".

Each of these various cases provided a different lesson.The Breuning case, for example, demonstrated that science did not always "self-correct", as scientists had insisted in their earlier attempts to forestall regulation. Breuning's research data had been widely reported and widely used: from 1980-1983, his published papers represented at least one-third of all scientific articles on the topic; citation analysis has since shown that, from 1981 to 1985, his work had "meaningful" impact on the field.31 The research had also influenced treatment plans for hundreds of children. Fraudulent science could thus be unknowingly incorporated into practice just as it persisted undetected in the literature. Such examples shattered the illusion that either the scientific community or the universities had the problem under control.

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