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

Just to be sure, the judge had Angelides take the stand and invoke the Fifth Amendment under questioning by Pecht about two NIH grants and the articles in the journals. With the criminal inquiry pending, the judge then postponed the trial until at least August. All discovery in the lawsuit has been put on hold until a decision is made on the criminal probe.

As the attorneys argue from Houston to New Orleans, the NIH's Office of Research Integrity has been conducting its probe of Angelides and the Baylor allegations. ORI, as it is known in the scientific community, is to investigate and make a decision in a timely manner. But there has been a long delay in its review of the Angelides case. Baylor had submitted its report shortly after Angelides was fired in March 1995, but ORI didn't appear to be aggressively pursuing its review until late 1996, when the case had drawn the attention of the scientific press.

Last July, Pianelli said that ORI "was holding its investigation in abeyance" until after the civil trial on Angelides's lawsuit against Baylor, which then was scheduled for February 1997. ORI's Pascal denies there was any agreement to delay his agency's decision until after the civil trial. ORI is known for long delays before its reports are done, but delaying one for a state court civil trial would be unprecedented. It would relegate the government's fraud-snooping agency to a second-class position; and it would enrage Baylor, where officials increasingly are concerned about ORI's failure to issue a decision. Baylor clearly wants a decision from ORI that would buttress its defense in the civil lawsuit.

By last November, ORI's investigation was in full swing. That proceeding has the flavor of a quasi-legal scientific court of inquiry. Investigators have visited Baylor, and some key witnesses were summoned to Maryland for questioning, while the federal prosecutor in Houston listened in via a phone hook-up.

Hardin says it's rather "curious that all of a sudden a day before Angelides gives a deposition that an assistant U.S. attorney calls," announcing he is conducting a criminal investigation. Angelides's attorneys have blamed Baylor for this latest twist in an already convoluted trek through the legal system. Baylor denies any involvement in trying to spur a criminal case. Pascal says the U.S. Department of Justice receives all of ORI's misconduct reviews, but he acknowledges its prosecutors seldom get involved.

As a decision nears in the federal probes, scientists who were co-authors with Angelides on the disputed research await anxiously. Most of the co-authors are scientists at Yale, including Dr. Stephen G. Waxman, who is chief of neurology at the prestigious medical school. Angelides had given them special antibodies in years past to use in experiments, with the Baylor and Yale researchers then sharing credit for the published articles. Now a statement from Yale indicates the scientists there feel duped.

When Yale first learned in 1993 that there were potential problems with the Baylor researcher, Waxman and his colleagues stopped using antibodies from Angelides, says Dr. Lawrence S. Cohen, a special advisor to Yale's medical school dean. Then Yale scientists sought details from Baylor to verify the characteristics of the antibodies, Cohen says, but they never got them. Like most of the people touched by the Angelides affair, Waxman and his colleagues have declined to comment.

(Rex Dalton is a San Diego journalist who specializes in medical and scientific misconduct issues. He has previously written on the Angelides case for the British publication Nature.)

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