Anderson, Christopher. "Secret Service Analysis Goes to Pieces," Science 260 (18 June 1993) p.
(This is not an annotation but a quotation of the piece.)
The federal government's marathon scientific misconduct investigation of Tufts University
immunologist Thereza Imanishi-Kari suffered a potential setback earlier this year. Science has
learned that many of the glass plates used in the forensic analysis of data were smashed,
apparently accidentally, in shipping. Federal investigators believe that enough plates have
survived for them to continue with the case, but the episode has raised concerns about the way
this material was handled.
The plates are the record of the thin layer chromatography analysis that the Secret Service
conducted on the data tapes from Imanishi-Kari's notebooks 3 years ago. They are expected to
provide critical support for possible charges that Imanishi-Kari fabricated data supporting a 1986
paper published in Cell. The Secret Service has testified at two congressional hearings, for
example, that some of the data tapes in question were produced before the experiments that they
purport to record were conducted. Imanishi-Kari's attorney has, however, commissioned a
competing forensic analysis that disputes that conclusion. The two sets of experts are expected to
fight it our eventually in an appeals hearing if the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) concludes
that she is guilty of misconduct.
A source close to the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says that when ORI
officials first saw the smashed plates, their "hearts sand." The initial ORI reading, the source
says, was that the damage was so extensive that the case was "in real trouble." But after closer
investigation, it appears that the damaged plates may not include those critical to the case. Others
can apparently be reconstructed. ORI now believes that it will be able to base its case on the
usable plates and will not have to redo the forensic analysis, which could have delayed the 6-year
investigation even further.
Some of the plates apparently were damaged in shipping on 22 April 1992, when they were sent
from the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore to Imanishi-Kari's Boston-based attorney, Bruce
Singal, so he could commission an independent analysis of the data (The U.S. Attorney had been
looking into the case for possible criminal prosecution, but in July, 1992 he decided not to
proceed.) Singal called the U.S. Attorney's office to report that three or four of the plates were
broken when he received them; he then forwarded the package to his forensic expert, Albert
Lyter, in North Carolina. Over the next 4 months, the plates were sent back and forth between
Boston and North Carolina, misdirected to ORI once, and were finally returned to the U.S.
Attorney's office in Baltimore.
They sat there for nearly 4 months, until the Department of Health and Human Services'
Inspector General's office retrieved them so that the Secret Service could prepare a rebuttal to
Lyter's analysis. The boxes in which the plates were shipped were in such poor condition when
they were returned to the Secret Service from the U.S. Attorney's office on 4 January 1993 that
agents videotaped their opening to prove that the damage had occurred before they received
them. About half of the 40-odd plates were found to be broken.
The Secret Service has interviewed Singal to try to determine what happened, but there is
apparently no reason to suggest that he or anyone else purposely damages the plates. "I don't
know how it happened," Singal says. If anything, he says, loss of the plates would hurt
Imanishi-Kari's case by making it more difficult to challenge the Secret Service's forensic