\Edsall, John T. "On Margot O'Toole and the Baltimore Case: A Personal Note on the Evolution

 

\Edsall, John T. "On Margot O'Toole and the Baltimore Case: A Personal Note on the Evolution
of My Involvement," Ethics & Behavior 4(3) pp. 239-247.\

I had assumed that Professor Edsall had been talking about Margot O'Toole when he said, in his
testimony to John Dingell, that he would warn students against blowing the whistle. (See J. B.
Sibbison in The Lancet, 20 May 1989) However, he says here that he was not; indeed, he claims
not to have been one of O'Toole's "earliest supporters." He has tried, in this article, to
reconstruct the events that led him eventually to support O'Toole and to discuss the development
of his thinking about the case.

By his words here, he finally came to support O'Toole rather late: "By the summer of 1992 I had
concluded that it was time to take an explicit public stand on Dr. O'Toole's behalf and not wait
for the completion of the official investigations. Paul Doty joined me in nominating her for the
Ethics Award of the American Institute of Chemists (AIC)...

"I concluded by noting that 8 years after this controversial case began, it still remains in the
hands of the ORI, and no indication of impending resolution is yet apparent. My support remains
with Margot O'Toole, but I still express sympathy, though not support, to David Baltimore and
Thereza Imanishi-Kari for the long ordeal that all three of them have had to face." (p. 246)

He further identifies O'Toole's statements before Dingell's committee (May 1989) as being
decisive in his case: "To me, O'Toole's words carried conviction..." (p. 244) Even so, he did not
speak out in her support in that he saw these issues as enormously complex. Regarding Dingell,
for example: "On balance I think he did a major service in saving Margot O'Toole from scientific
oblivion, but part of the gain from this important action was undone by actions that increased the
polarization between contending sides." (p. 244) Moreover, "...I believe that Dingell performed a
great service in making a forum available in which she (O'Toole) could set forth her case and
receive a public hearing. Yet Dingell's failure to enable the authors of the disputed paper to
respond, and his use of the term fraud where no fraud had yet been established served to polarize
the debate and made the backlash more intense." (p. 244)

It is to be noted that Edsall has experience: "I had experience in these matters. Part of my
testimony concerned several cases of fraud that I had encountered when I was editor-in- chief of
the Journal of Biological Chemistry (1958-1967). I also discussed the great risks to which
responsible whistleblowers expose themselves when they challenge higher authority to protect
the public interest... I had become well aware of these problems when I served as a member, and
for 2 years as chairman, of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (1976-1982)." (p. 239)