In the news

January 22, 1999

Ten years ago, the Nobel prizewinning biologist David Baltimore was embroiled in a dispute dubbed "A Scientific Watergate" by The New York Times.

This week, he attends the American Association for the Advancement of Science with his reputation restored. He is head of the California Institute of Technology and chief of the United States steering committee on Aids vaccine research. His career's rocky path has been held up as "a timely indictment of the irresponsibility of politicians and press when they pronounce on science".

Baltimore was born 60 years ago in New York and educated at Swarthmore College and Rockefeller University. He became a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was made professor of microbiology aged just 34. Three years later, he secured a Nobel prize for his work on retroviruses.

By the early 1980s, he was director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. In 1989, he became president of Rockefeller University.

But it all went wrong after Baltimore was named as a co-author on a paper by Thereza Iminishi-Kari, a member of his scientific team. A researcher in the same lab could not reproduce the results and began to murmur about fraud. Backed by other scientists, her concerns were taken up by the university, the National Institutes of Health and, finally, by Congress and the Secret Service. Baltimore, said to be "arrogant" in answering criticisms, was forced out of Rockefeller and returned to MIT, his credibility shot.

It was not until 1996, when Iminishi-Kari was exonerated, that the charges against Baltimore were acknowledged to have been false. In 1997, he won the Caltech job.

Outspoken about the importance of his current work but less willing to discuss his "slight hiatus", Baltimore is said to have emerged from it stronger and wiser.

Aids vaccine research, page 21

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