The Angelides Affair

A dispute over research fraud has split the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine, and could jeopardize the way universities police scientific misconduct

A decade ago, at the dawn of a new era of science, Kimon J. Angelides joined the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine as part of an ambitious effort to discover novel methods to combat muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.

Angelides seemed perfectly suited for a newly created Baylor department, one that was established to explore microscopic pathways into cells as a way to deliver drugs to fight the devastating neurological diseases that afflict more than a half-million Americans. Familiar with the latest techniques for probing genes, Angelides was known as a dynamic scientist and charming personality, capable of giving dazzling lectures punctuated with myriad references to journal articles and research discoveries. But as his years passed at Baylor, questions began to arise about whether everything the glib neuroscientist said was the truth.

First, one of his superiors accused Angelides of making false statements in documents he turned in to the National Institutes of Health when applying for federal grants. During his nine years at Baylor, Angelides brought in at least $2.6 million in grants from the NIH and such private organizations as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the group for which Jerry Lewis raises money.

The discovery of the false statements led to an extensive Baylor investigation of Angelides's research that concluded that he had published false and fabricated results in five articles in scientific journals. Baylor also found that Angelides had repeatedly falsified data in documents for hundreds of thousands of dollars in NIH grants.

In March 1995 Baylor fired Angelides, forcing the $115,000-a-year tenured professor out of a laboratory he had operated since 1986. It is believed to be the first time Baylor has taken such action, which rarely occurs at any U.S. scientific institution.

Then, last December, the U S. Attorney's Office in Houston opened the preliminary phase of a criminal investigation to determine if Angelides should be indicted for making false statements to the federal government regarding NIH grants.

David H. Peck, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, has declined to comment on his criminal inquiry. His office is expected to make a decision in the upcoming weeks on what action -- if any -- it will take on the Angelides matter. In the last decade, only one scientist nationally has been convicted of a criminal charge related to scientific misconduct. That case involved a psychologist who faked the results of drug studies of mentally disabled children in Michigan.

Officials at Baylor won't discuss the Angelides case. They referred calls to their attorneys, A. John Harper II and Gerald G. Pecht, both of the Fulbright & Jaworski firm. The attorneys also declined to comment, saying their legal papers speak for the college.

Rusty Hardin, Angelides's criminal attorney, says he is convinced his client didn't commit a criminal offense. "There is no issue some wrong data was submitted; the question is did he know it was wrong and false when he submitted it? I'm satisfied he did not," says Hardin.

Angelides isn't talking to the press these days. But through his attorneys, he denies engaging in any impropriety. After getting the boot from Baylor, Angelides moved to England, where he is now a professor at a small institution, the University of Durham. He left behind at his Houston home his wife, Dr. Lefki Karaviti, a pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital, giving him an intercontinental marriage. Angelides took their two young children with him to England, reportedly because child care is cheaper there.

Because of Baylor's allegations, Angelides's U.S. research career may be finished. To the scientific community, lying about research results is considered heresy, the most vile offense a researcher can commit. It also can represent an abuse of taxpayer funds, one that has attracted increasing scrutiny in recent years as Congress has expressed strong displeasure at the scientific establishment's inability to police its wrongdoers. So Angelides followed the route of a number of other accused researchers, seeking scientific asylum in a laboratory abroad.

But Angelides didn't fly off to the United Kingdom quietly. In August 1995 he sued Baylor, its top officials and his accusers -- charging 16 offenses, including wrongful termination, breach of contract, defamation and blacklisting. His lawsuit in Harris County's 215th District Court is more than a scientist's effort to settle his grievances. It is an example of the latest trend in scientific misconduct cases -- sullied researchers are exercising their due process rights by attacking their accusers in a full-on legal battle.

The Angelides case has become the focus now of a high-stakes legal fight on how universities and the NIH handle investigations of potentially bogus federally funded research. Baylor, the NIH and the nation's academic institutions see Angelides's lawsuit as undermining a partnership that the federal government and universities have developed in the last decade to address allegations of research misconduct -- which include fabricated data, false academic credentials and plagiarism.

This investigative partnership has been difficult to develop. During the last decade, the NIH has seen its watchdog efforts evolve as the scientific establishment has been forced to identify fakes while giving them due process rights. Along the way, some powerful scientists fought efforts to create a formal mechanism to expose research fraud. They saw science as "self-correcting," insisting the wayward scientist and his or her fabricated articles would be relegated to obscurity. But a number of high-profile cases of wholesale fabrications -- including one involving nearly 50 published articles of bogus research by a scientist at the University of California at San Diego -- shattered that theory.

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