“She was Joan of Arc, Madame Curie, and Florence Nightingale—all wrapped up in one.”
United States


00:00:06the following podcast contains explicit language August first nineteen ninety one Washington DC what are those sweltering DC summer days room twenty three twenty two the Rayburn house office building the big grand congressional building right across from the capitol is packed press lawyers aids along the row of congressman
00:00:35up on the dais and in the chairman's seat is John Dingell Democrat of Michigan a big man well past six feet gruff intimidating giant bald head classes bouncer in a business suit and in his heyday Dingle was perhaps the most powerful men in Congress in on this August
00:00:59afternoon he's called in a who's who of the American scientific establishment for reckoning the hearing was not recorded all we have is a transcript Dingell begins it is the practice of this subcommittee since it was first constituted by Sam Rayburn in nineteen fifty eight that all witnesses testify
00:01:23under oath do any of you have any objection to testifying under oath this morning they raised their right hands courses knows a masterpiece of choreographed congressional theater until in our five it all goes off the rails my name is Malcolm Gladwell you listening to revisionist history my podcast
00:01:48about things overlooked and misunderstood this episode is the second of two parts about the bizarre outbreak of insanity that swept the United States a quarter century ago a time when otherwise thoughtful and intelligent people took temporary leave of their senses and convince themselves against all evidence to the
00:02:12contrary that American science was riddled with fraud if you haven't listened to the first part you should before continuing on part one is about how the panic started this episode is about how it ended when the immovable object named John Dingell ran into an unstoppable force named Bernadine
00:02:37Healy I remember it well I was there my parents and particularly my father thought it was wonderful for a woman to be a doctor the story of how the panic over science fraud and it revolves around three people congressman John Dingell a brilliant scientist named Rene Sharma amber
00:03:03Bernadine Healy was the first woman to run the national institutes of health the most important biomedical research institution in the world with billions of dollars at its disposal this is hilly in an interview a few years after she left the an age when she was head of the
00:03:19American red cross when I was growing up it was really exceptional unusual for a woman to pursue a career in medicine and sore as my father was concerned it was the perfect place for me to go with the place where I could use my intelligence and my artwork
00:03:35but also make a difference Healy grew up in a little apartment in queens upstairs from her family's perfume business we're of Irish descent she graduated number one in her class at Hunter College high school then Vassar Harvard Medical School Johns Hopkins not went to Harvard Medical School there
00:03:55were roughly ten percent less than ten percent of the class were women and in those days although they probably don't like to remember this medical schools had quotas and there was the prevailing attitude that women were taking up a spot that wasn't necessarily going to be used as
00:04:12well as a spot filled my man women have to have I think better academic credentials and often go through much tougher screening when he was young she wanted to be a nun but her father said no because that would mean she talked to be bossed around by a
00:04:30priest and it must have been obvious even then the Bernadine Healy was not cut out to be bossed around by anyone she like to quote Saint Augustine she cut her own hair she wore a Scottish suits she was brilliant and I've worked for a lot of really wonderful
00:04:50and accomplished people this is Joanna Schneider who is Healy's right hand during her years at the NIH she could take a problem and sift through it quickly and to come up with a couple of solutions very very politely and it was a beautiful thing to watch writing was
00:05:14beautiful but the way she spoke was beautiful as well on it was just a natural talent was a god given talent and so she was a bit of a force of nature when you matter and I think most people felt the same way tell me more so describe
00:05:33for our listeners who have never may never foreseen let's see Bernadine was tall statuesque blonde she was beautiful but didn't know it didn't understand the the impact I think that she had on people physically I talked to someone else who worked with Healy back then a senior NIH
00:05:58official who knew five separate NIH directors countless Nobel laureates and he said she was the most brilliant person he'd ever met the only work together for three years twenty five years ago and what struck me is if you use the present tense in describing her even though he
00:06:16leads been dead for years he said her influence on me is everlasting her first instinct was always fairness and justice and I just she was my father my father was all about fairness and justice she is a mix of Joan of arc Madame Curie and Florence Nightingale you
00:06:45know she's already it has got in it Scott absolutely absolutely and I met Healy years ago I once followed her around for a few days and wrote a profile of her for the Washington post and I have to say that none of this is hyperbole she spoke in
00:07:03casual conversation the way the rest of us could only speak if we had a week to prepare she had a wooden sign on her desk that said strong verbs short sentences and that was Bernie back when he really was on the faculty of Johns Hopkins medical school there
00:07:25was an all male eating club called the Passat any club they had an annual comedy show and one near the main skit consisted of a man dressed in a long blond wig fishnet stockings and coconut half brassiere performing pornographic acts on other physicians at the hospital it was
00:07:43supposed to be healing Healy heard about it and complained one person on staff another woman came to her defense one person people told her she had no sense of humor that she should drop it Bernadine knock it off boys will be boys but she wouldn't she kept bringing
00:08:01it up at staff meetings they told her she's hurting her career and in fact it does she doesn't last long at Hopkins but this is Bernadine Patricia Healy disciple of fairness and justice she forces a face to face with the officers of the club he didn't volunteer that
00:08:19story to me I found out about it when I was doing research on my profile at first she didn't want to talk about it finally she told me this quote I am made everyone of them answer how they would have felt if the skit was about their sister
00:08:34their mother or their wife I went around the table and question their integrity their sensitivity their character we're talking about an incident from nineteen eighty two mind you Healy was a single mom newly divorced a young academic trying to make a name for herself in a world that
00:08:53at the time was probably ninety five percent male but allow Bernie in full burning mode strong verbs and short sentences I would not have wanted to be one of those men around the table when you said that she came to Washington and there were things she wanted to
00:09:11accomplish yeah what was she was on her mind when she first started an H. what is it you want to do and she just said women have been locked out of clinical trials they've you know they've they've constantly the scientific community has always just extrapolated all these trials
00:09:29and men to women and it just it isn't necessarily good medicine so we need to get women into trials we need to open up an office for minorities and she just said this is what we're gonna do at the NIH and we're gonna open signs up we're going
00:09:48to change it we're gonna double our budget while okay what was the reception with an NIH tur call cold cold why chili and they thought she was just being too aggressive too pushy and you can feel it in the meetings you could a light in the halls how
00:10:15did she react to that chilly reception I don't know why but it never bothered her after never she said I wasn't not here to make friends or to get a group of people to like me I came here to make changes and you know god willing and the
00:10:37creek don't rise we're gonna do that and it never she didn't need affirmation and that was I guess I was always fascinated by that at the risk of stating the obvious you really don't want to pick a fight with Bernadine Healy Vaughn in nineteen thirty five to somebody
00:10:58had that time British as reward remains Sharma the second character in this story Sharma came to America in nineteen sixty he got his PhD became a full professor and made a revolutionary discovery of an entirely new cell signaling pathway which is best described by the following analogy if
00:11:20you want to drive from New York City to Miami you take the I ninety five interstate that's the main transportation corridor of the American eastern seaboard now imagine somebody says wait I've just discovered another interstate just as wide and long that also run straight down the east coast
00:11:41remake Sharma found the bodies second interstate in the late nineteen eighties Sharma is in demand any gets a fantastic offer to set up his own laboratory at the Cleveland Clinic one of the world's great research institutions and who's running the Cleveland Clinic at that time a young Dynamo
00:12:01named Bernadine Healy before she moved to the N. H. it comes starts work and one day in the spring of nineteen ninety comes back from lunch and gets a message he's wanted in his office one of showing his colleagues has accused him of fraud there's an investigation shama
00:12:27is cleared there's a second investigation then a third the whole business ends up at the office of scientific integrity the NIH is anti fraud unit which is in the middle of its full fledged hysteria mode and the result unfolds just as it did in the cases that I
00:12:43spoke about in the last episode there are leaks to the media sensational allegations and in all of it the same puzzling feature as the other cases almost no mention of what the accused is supposed to have done so let me tell you what charmer was accused of Shana
00:13:04writes a grant application to the N. H. many thousands of words a small portion of which concerns to proteins alpha two way and alpha two G. C. and on page twenty one of the grant application he has a line where he says he did such and such work
00:13:21with alpha to GC and it isn't true he hasn't done that particular work without for two G. C. so the OSI says that's fraught but China says no it isn't they never stop writing and I do not much typing so I would consult with my life she had
00:13:40to halt hall like in doing so for the summation let me help you so she helped me this is the late nineteen eighties what processes are primitive and to type the name of a protein Sharma had to do required the use of Greek letters and subscripts he was
00:13:58a pretty tedious complicated process a process he had to do at least a hundred and thirty times so Sharma's wife program shortcut key strokes for each of those two proteins show me how it worked on an actual keyboard we were side by side she put side by side
00:14:16yeah sheep could well demand closer to the side by side and he says then I needed a fact witness this when I needed a foot to JC process and %HESITATION Daddy somehow I kept going but on page twenty one of the grant application Sharma's wife made a mistake
00:14:34a typo she hit the alpha two G. C. key when she meant to hit the offer to a key because they're right next to each other which is how typos happen how could he concluded a single typographical error constituted misconduct tell me that that is what I am
00:14:52asking them all of that and I in Austin the same thing though appeals more can you imagine in a document of thirty nine of spades in school constructs I would get paid you only find single title graphic of that seventy eight pages one type and the OSI get
00:15:13so worked up at one point they fly in a team of its investigators to interrogate charm booked a room at the airport I said dear poor Diaz me Daddy will questions an indelible than the ostomy some Daddy will questions I think this started off really believe me as
00:15:33they were bullying him Sharma happen to look at the cover page of the document they given him to sign the date was wrong off by a year in the summary of charges against him over a typo they had made a typo just remembering the absurdity of it all
00:15:50makes him jab the table in anger I said you will suffer down it was the idea by attorney wonder no I just like a you yo stuff I've done a mistake here my you upload Rongji everyone you are wrong as you can believe mistaken that you are trying
00:16:05to take me to the calls is one typographical subscript at contact me and up then they left Sharma's contract at the Cleveland Clinic was not renewed doors that were once open to him were closed I have a stained and I never a color my life set from H.
00:16:34on what your degree came from India and origin of the nineteen six days all condoned it those are the crunch classics and here we are talking about a student compulsion or the man who discovered the bodies second cellular pathway now works at a small university outside of Philadelphia
00:17:04in the middle of all this furor over Shamus type of needing Healy was tapped to lead the NIH and when she leaves the Cleveland Clinic and arrives in Washington she realizes that what happened to Sharma is happening to a lot of other scientists as well that the anti
00:17:21fraud unit at the NIH is in the grip of I'm proud of the little things have been able to do well I've been here abroad eat prouder even still more of the people that I've been able to serve and help John Dingell the third character in this story
00:17:53Dingell is Washington royalty his father John Dingell senior was elected to Congress in nineteen thirty three as a kid Dingle was a congressional page when his dad died in nineteen fifty five tingle ran for the family seat and one he served until twenty fifteen almost sixty years and
00:18:14when he retired his wife Debbie ran for his seat and one meaning that we are now in the ninth decade of Dingell's occupying that chair in the house during the long years when the Democrats controlled Congress Dingle was as powerful as anyone in Washington and his self assumed
00:18:31role was congressional watchdog scourge of fraud and abuse when I was chairman of the commerce committee is also chairman of the oversight investigations committee knowledge I think one of the better investigator ship ever had her this is Dingell in an interview with the Edward M. Kennedy institute a
00:18:52few years ago for reasons that you're really didn't make defense contractors get back a million a billion to two billion you bet your one we didn't frankly center for a number of folks to jail or for sh major change in policy or personal or both and federal government
00:19:14I kept a picture of Joe McCarthy all the world remind me what I did not want to be an but a better investigator was Dingell's oversight committee had its own squad of investigators and they were famous big aggressive guys very much in the image of their boss what
00:19:33they love to do is passed to the agencies on their watch the N. I. H. the food and drug administration the centers for disease control they would send what we call Dingell grams letters demanding action expressing outrage requesting boxes and boxes of documents I once asked the director
00:19:52of the FDA to count the number of letters Dingle's staff had sent him in a year and a half hundred seventy five a hundred and seventy five Romeo and Juliet did not send each other a hundred and seventy five letters and each of those a hundred and seventy
00:20:08five letters required immediate attention they would accuse the FDA of not being tough enough on the pharmaceutical industry then when the FDA got tough Dingell would write the letters accusing him of being too tough on the industry he was sort of discouraging the NIH and his staff used
00:20:26to write us letters all the time saying what about this I want to see that John Dingell and his staff did not pursue a coherent ideological agenda they would just police do you understand remembers Dingell looming over here this time it and I. H. what got under her
00:20:44skin was we spent so much time energy resources and man hours answering those queries when she felt like this is wrong we should be trying to change the world we should be looking at clinical trials we should be looking at minority health so I think what happened with
00:21:04John Dingell was she just felt like this is politics this isn't science this is I'm not going to do this anymore the office of scientific integrity at the NIH the group responsible for science fraud investigations answered to dangle sometimes people at the OSI would simply transfer to dangle
00:21:24and set up shop in his oversight office the leaks that arrived on my desk at the Washington post came as often as not from Dingell's office I said in the last episode that I think of the science fraud panic as a consequence of our fear of aids but
00:21:39panic needs fuel Dingell was the fuel people were afraid John and the I think that made an enormous difference that's Joe on ICQ he was one of our may chamas lawyers a leader in the small group who spent the early nineties trying to fend off the science fraud
00:21:59hysteria how did the OSI investigators have the freedom to run amok to spend years investigating typos I never said how how they got away with that for so long John Dingell he is just I think that they had protection are they could they knew that have protection or
00:22:21the work away within them most kinds of the band disturbed bad protection and the I think they felt the ticket get away with it so Bernadine Healy thanks to the science fraud investigations are out of control and she moves in to restore some kind of sanity Dingell hears
00:22:42about her plan he isn't happy thus the hearing of August first nineteen ninety one Dingell invites to people from the OSI his people to give his side of the story and then he lines up everyone in Healy's chain of command her boss her deputy her legal counsel and
00:23:04of course her over the course of the day Dingell will slowly build the case against her she will testify last when the trap is good and ready and what's the trap a shaman Healy was at the Cleveland Clinic when the clinic allowed Sharma's outrageous fraud to be perpetrated
00:23:25what does that say about her leadership and character in the face of one of the greatest crises to hit American side since he wants to humiliate Dingell wants to pick a fight with Bernadine Healy two weeks before the hearing on July nineteenth nineteen ninety one two of Dingell's
00:23:49staffers went up to the NIH campus in Bethesda just outside of Washington to meet dean healing they were laying the trap for the big day I will say that I tried very very hard to get someone from the Dingell camp to give their side of what happened that
00:24:11day Dingell is now retired I contacted his former press person who promised to help but then vanished I tried repeatedly to reach tingle through his wife's press person who now handles his press enquiries she promised to help until I told her what I was interested in talking about
00:24:30then she vanished Dingell's former chief of staff declined to talk he emailed me that was about twenty five years ago and my recollections at this point are limited at best which is funny because I have yet to encounter memory problems from anyone who was on the receiving end
00:24:48of the Dingell staff in those years so what I'm relying on is a meticulously source to count from Daniel catalysts now a distinguished historian at Yale who in nineteen ninety eight published an exhaustive history of this era Kelis track down as many people as he could who participated
00:25:06in the meeting between Healy and Dingell staff I'm reading now they asked her about the house she was living in on the NIH campus did she pay rent did she have expensive commodes commodes I'm quoting again from Cabela's Healy adds that they demean the N. H. leaders we
00:25:29were lap dogs not scientific watch dogs they said then they quote gloated unquote about having taken down some of the biggest names in science and when he Lee pointed out that those scientists hadn't been granted anything like due process they said they didn't care because they knew they
00:25:49were guilty Healy says they meaning the Dingell staffers behaved like quote thugs absolute thugs she later told a reporter that they laced their talk with four letter words yelling screaming insults then comes this one of Dingell's man turns to Healy's deputy who is in the meeting and insinuates
00:26:15that he really quote had a personal relationship unquote with David Baltimore the Nobel Prize winning scientist who'd been wrapped up in one of the longest and most absurd of the OS size fraud investigations I think we can be certain that the phrase personal relationship is a sanitized version
00:26:35of what was actually said one of Dingell's henchman goes to the office of one of the most senior science officials in the land a woman of principle and dignity and accomplishment a woman who quotes Saint Augustine for goodness sake and in front of her in her presence turns
00:26:57to her male deputy and says I know why she's standing up for Baltimore she's **** him do you know what he really says when she tells catalyst that story just how slimy is that one short sentences strong verbs two weeks after all this but did you nearly makes
00:27:26the check down to Capitol Hill for her scheduled humiliation she wait Sir turn she raises her right hand and calmly answers question after question about Renee Shamus typo and the Cleveland Clinic I would direct you to the exchange beginning on page two hundred and twenty three of the
00:27:46transcript where one of Dingell's fellow committee members Norman lent Republican of Long Island starts to question Healy about the signature page of Ramesh Sharma is grant application as I said at the beginning this hearing was not recorded but it deserves theatrical reenactment congressman let doctor Healy there was
00:28:09something about these grant applications that intrigues me particularly grant application and asked to three seven four four one which is the one dated February twenty fourth nineteen eighty nine he's talking about Renee Shamus grant you have a lease signed and dated the grant application on February twenty second
00:28:28nineteen eighty nine while the principal investigator evidently did not sign and date the grant application until February twenty fourth nineteen eighty nine let's point is that when a scientist signs a grant application he or she is testifying that it's true so if he only signed first then she
00:28:46was signing on to something before it had been certified as true I guess then goes on and on and the room is starting to get restless because the promise of a Dingle hearing is a powerful climax when the hammer comes down on some hapless victim but after a
00:29:05long day all we've got is congressman land yeah bring on about a signature page to someone who probably signed hundreds of signature pages a year big John Dingell up on the dais looks over at let would the gentleman yield and then he lunges for healing why is it
00:29:26that the application was done up everything was there except the signature of the investigator and you signed it my problem here is that I see the institution signs first and then the investigator science I would assume that it would be the investigator that signs and then you say
00:29:43everything he says is true and I am relying on the content of my own knowledge and I'm also relying on his signature at this point all of us in the audience realized something this was all Dingle had he had no case this is congressional theater and the best
00:30:02he can offer is a jazzy what ical discussion of grant applications signing procedures here you didn't even have the signature if he had signed first and then I had signed you could argue how could he have signed before I gave my assurances that we were going to give
00:30:21him the space somebody had to sign first because the hearing has been going on for five hours and she cannot believe that she Bernadine Healy is in charge of the world's most important medical research institution and she's being forced to sit and be interrogated on the sequence of
00:30:40signatures on a grant application that just happened to include a completely meaningless typo on page twenty one interrogated by the same man who's lackeys came to her office and in front of her made the most violent insinuations the question though is why was it you have the side
00:31:01first I didn't have to sign first this is the way it was brought to me he signed second and you sign first who's on third and in that moment as the room erupts in laughter and chairman Dingell's giant bald head turns the color of a radish the spell
00:31:27is broken every time I think of that moment I go back to my childhood memories of Danny Kaye playing the boy in the king's new clothes changes in the bill together really goes back to her office and she says that's it from now on if you've been accused
00:31:52of scientific fraud by the NIH you have the right to an appeal meaning no more conclusions leaked to the press before the accused has a chance to respond you can take your case to a panel of judges and lo and behold once the accused had a chance to
00:32:07defend themselves the cases against them fell apart the appeals board said in the remake Sharma case it's a typo we call them up at a mish tools all residents you are honest and you will not the N. I. H. stops persecuting its grantees the case against David Baltimore
00:32:33gets thrown out the OSI drops its case against the Georgetown scientists market how much make up a poetic the aids researcher who was hounded out of his job over the meaning of the abbreviation N. D. was vindicated the verdict against him was thrown out by Healy's appeals board
00:32:50with this choice line one might anticipate that from all this evidence after all the sound and fury there would be at least a residue of palpable wrongdoing that is not the case I went to her and said we need a private meeting with John Dingell I'm gonna set
00:33:10it up you go she said yes called a friend called a friend got a private meeting with John Dingell and she and I went Healy's right hand Joanna Schneider sought a truce Dingle was the most powerful men in Congress and he really wanted to double the budget of
00:33:28the NIH she needed him but you can imagine how it went the unstoppable force and the immovable object she made it clear that his people were pushing too hard on things that didn't matter and you know he kind of dismissed it and dismiss Sir but you know he
00:33:53didn't he didn't engage on the topic so she went back to it %HESITATION she kept on yes and you know I'm sitting around speeding I just I you know I thought the world over and I thought she could charm him again %HESITATION but she wasn't it wasn't her
00:34:15agenda so you're sitting in a year you really really worried she's gonna she's gonna stick them she didn't have the same agenda I hadn't she was gonna let him know you know that he was making a mistake and I guess Bernadine was the one who was going to
00:34:33say no more this stops here before the meeting ended Jewish daughter took a picture of the two of them Dingell and hilly Schneider showed it to me he really has a big smile Dingell looks like a stuck pig he could have let it pass mended fences a little
00:34:57bowing and scraping before the king but she didn't because the only way that hysteria is and is when someone has the courage to say enough why do I love Bernadine Healy because she showed us how it's done the next day she sends me a huge bouquet of flowers
00:35:19and she says I may be found and Louise lived happily ever after after all which was Darling but what is what does she mean the you guys with them in the ways that you drove off the cliff and the reason I tell you that story is she you
00:35:43know she saw her said she was on a mission and for the people who worked for her to the people around her you could really get caught up in in in the best way in the right way you were caught up in it and you thought you can
00:36:04change the world with her I always felt like the world was a safer place with burning healing this is history is a panoply production the senior producer his meal a bell with Jacob Smith and Camille Baptiste our editor is Julie apart Flon Williams is our engineer fact checking
00:36:33by Beth Johnson original music by Lee's character and special thanks to our revisionist history players Jodie mark cal can marks and long island's finest Mike pesca thanks as always to any Bowers and Jacob Weisberg I'm let me repeat the question what do you understand you all liability would
00:37:04be if your certification was a Roni yes my understanding is that if I told the truth at the time that I sign them I would have no liability let me help you out I think what you're trying to say is if you signed the paper and it contained
00:37:22false statements and you didn't willfully makes a false statement there would be no liability I made no false statements Mr line you made no false statements will fully I think is what you want to set Mister land when an institutional official signs of grant application a sign is
00:37:41a partner with the investigator the major responsibility of the institutional officials to say yes we are agreeing that this crappy submitted and we will provide the resources that are necessary to see that this grant is done my point is doctor here indeed if you are saying that any
00:37:58institutional official that signs and grant is certifying that they're one hundred percent sure that everything in that grant is perfect I don't think you'll have any institutional official signing any of our twenty thousand NIH grants that are currently fund in view of the fact that you it certified
00:38:21as to the truthfulness of the statements in the grant application in the first place I did not certified to the truthfulness I said to the best of my knowledge those grant applications are correct I had no way of certifying to their truthfulness I don't want to overdo this
00:38:38I read it once eighty willfully false certification is a criminal offense I was trying to help you there before when I said what you are saying is that if it is not a willful misstatement there would be no liability on your part I wasn't even aware that there
00:38:58was a misstatement I am not sure I understand this case is still open Mr lent the jury is still out on this case hello fellow revisionist historians I'm delighted to tell you that I'll be following up this season the show with an all new project from panoply broken
00:39:38record will be out this November think it is liner notes for the digital era I'll be discussing debating and learning about music from people who know a thing or two legendary producer Rick Rubin and former New York times editor Bruce had again that's broken record coming in November
00:39:59which you can subscribe on apple podcast right now

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