Opposition parties called for clarification of comments made during First Minister's Questions in which he accused the Nuffield Trust of "miscalculating" figures used in a damning report this week on NHS services in Scotland.
But the trust pointed out the numbers, used to prove Scottish hospital doctors were less productive than those elsewhere in the UK, originated from NHS Scotland and had been held by the Office of National Statistics for three years.
Amid bad-tempered scenes in the parliament, Scottish Tory chief whip David McLetchie raised a point of order, asking Mr Salmond to apologise. But he refused, instead deferring to health secretary and deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Mr McLetchie said: "Rather than have the good grace to apologise, the First Minister passed the buck to his deputy, who was equally graceless. Today, he exhibited both arrogance and cowardice."