Independent Panel Clears Arizona Immunologist

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

A prominent scientific misconduct case has taken another turn. An independent scholarly panel last week concluded that misconduct allegations against University of Arizona (UA) biomedical researcher Marguerite Kay were "without merit," and two members of the panel accused university officials of promoting "a pattern of harassment and unrelenting persecution" of Kay. But the report will have little immediate impact on the legal maneuvering surrounding Kay, an immunologist who was fired in 1998 after two university panels upheld charges of scientific misconduct and mismanagement. She was partially reinstated earlier this year after a court ruled that the university hadn't followed its own rules in dismissing her, and she now faces renewed termination proceedings (Science, 18 February, p. 1183).

Kay's supporters, who say that prior reviews of Kay's job performance were conducted by UA academics with little expertise in her field, assembled the five-member review panel under university rules that allow faculty members to request an "enhanced" appraisal that includes outside academics. It teamed three researchers from UA's College of Medicine with immunologists Ronald Kennedy of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and Vera Byers of the University of California, San Francisco. After reviewing documents and interviewing Kay and six other researchers involved in the case--but not prominent accusers--the panel evaluated 14 allegations, including charges that Kay fabricated data and allowed lax lab-safety practices.

"There has been no scientific misconduct" or lab mismanagement by Kay, the group concluded in its 21 July report to John Marchalonis, chair of UA's Department of Microbiology and Immunology and a vocal supporter of Kay. "We urge [her] immediate and full reinstatement." In an addendum to the report, Kennedy and Byers accused UA administrators of fostering a climate that makes it "impossible for Dr. Kay to receive a fair hearing" at the university. "This is the most sordid, twisted situation I've seen," Kennedy told Science. "It's clear she was not treated fairly."

UA officials did not respond to a request for comment. But this week, they indefinitely postponed termination hearings against Kay. Don Awerkamp, Kay's attorney, expects to file a reinstatement motion in state court within a month. Meanwhile, Kay--who is being paid but is barred from campus--continues to pursue a federal court case against the university, seeking at least $3 million for breach of contract and other harms.

Posted in Scientific Community, Education