Altman, Lawrence. "Two Journals in Dispute Over Research on Kaposi's Sarcoma," New York
Times, 10 June 1994, p. A18.
In the kind of dispute that is usually carried out privately in the rarefied atmosphere of academic
medicine, two prestigious scientific journals are squaring off in public. The dispute involves the
validity of findings in a published report about Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin cancer that affects many
The dispute involves an experimental compound that Dr. Robert Gallo, one of the world's
leading AIDS researchers, believes holds promise for treating Kaposi's sarcoma. The hope is
based only on experiments carried out on mice.
The dispute erupted in public Wednesday when The Journal of the American Medical
Association published a report by researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson who tried to
duplicate the experiments.
The Arizona team said that the original research published by Dr. Gallo's team in 1992 was
seriously flawed because it contained important systematic errors and omissions. They also said
that their challenge of the finds was squelched by the journal Science, published by the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
Since Kaposi's sarcoma was first reported in 1872, scientists have debated whether it is truly a
cancer or an unusual type of inflammation that mimics a cancer. One reason behind the debate in
that until the advent of AIDS in 1981, patients often lived with Kaposi's sarcoma for decades and
many died from other causes.
Also, scientists have been unable to determine the origin of the cell involved in Kaposi's
sarcoma, information that is critical in developing successful therapies against it.
In the Science report, Dr. Gallo's team reported that a compound produced by bacteria and
known as SP-PG for sulfated polysaccharide-peptoglycan, controlled the growth of AIDS-
associated Kaposi's sarcoma in test tube experiments.
Dr. Gallo's team reported that in mice, the currently used drugs were less effective and more
toxic than SP-PG. The team included researchers from the University of Southern California, the
Huntington Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, the Daiichi Pharmaceutical Company in Tokyo,
which makes SP-PG, and Dr. Gallo's laboratory at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.
The team headed by Dr. Marlys H. Witte in Tucson said it was surprised by findings what it
regarded as several irregularities in the figures and photographs published in Dr. Gallo's Science
article. So the University of Arizona set out to repeat the experiments to see whether they could
get similar results or improve on them. Part of the research involved following the course of a
blue dye injected into the mice. In different phases of their research, the Arizona team injected
the dye into the tails of the mice, as was done in the original study. They also purposely erred in
the way the dye was injected, and injected it into a different vein. Some of the results contrasted
with the original report, supporting the Arizona team's original skepticism.
Dr. Witte's team reported that it could not "confirm some of the pivotal findings" in Dr. Gallo's
Dr. Witte's team submitted its own report to Science, but the journal rejected it, saying in part
that the Arizona team's explanations were "without serious merit and their experiments and
extraordinary waste of time and effort."
Dr. Witte;s team wrote back, including comments from another researcher, Dr. H. J. Carroll, in
New York City, who criticized the editors of Science for foreclosing debate on an issue that is
unsettled. Again, Science rejected the report from Dr. Witte's team, saying it was a problem over
methods that could await another report from Dr. Gallo's team. No such report has been
So Dr. Witte's team took the extraordinary step of submitting its report to The Journal of the
American Medical Association, which had not been involved in the controversy. In the article,
the Arizona team said that the most serious aspect of the controversy "has been the reticence and
obstacles encountered to public airing of our questions and the inability of the peer review
process to correct itself once errors and inconsistencies were pointed out and bolstered by further
Under the peer review system, scientific journals send manuscripts to other scientists, who are
often the authors' competitors, for confidential evaluation. Editors rely on such critiques in
deciding whether to publish an article, and such publications are influential in whether
researchers get additional public and private research money. But the peer review system has
come under repeated attack in recent years from critics who say that it cannot live up to the many
claims that have been made for it as a safeguard against error and that it is too costly and time-
Dr. Gallo's declined to comment, The Associated Press said.
In a statement responding to the latest article, Dr. Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., the editor of Science,
defended his journal's review process and its actions. Experts who read the Arizona team;s report
told Science not to publish its criticisms and advised Dr. Witte's team to "do additional
experiments to make their criticisms more credible."
Dr. Koshland also said that the quotations cited in the Arizona team's article "were taken out of
context and give a very different impression from those conveyed by the full reviews."