Report: Top Harvard Cancer Researchers Accused of Faking Data, Committing Scientific Fraud

Chris Menahan
Jan. 24, 2024

Top Harvard cancer researchers, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute President and CEO Laurie Glimcher, are being accused of faking data and committing scientific fraud.

From Ars Technica, "Top Harvard cancer researchers accused of scientific fraud; 37 studies affected":
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is seeking to retract six scientific studies and correct 31 others that were published by the institute's top researchers, including its CEO. The researchers are accused of manipulating data images with simple methods, primarily with copy-and-paste in image editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop.

The accusations come from [British molecular biologist] data sleuth Sholto David and colleagues on PubPeer, an online forum for researchers to discuss publications that has frequently served to spot dubious research and potential fraud. On January 2, David posted on his research integrity blog, For Better Science, a long list of potential data manipulation from DFCI researchers. The post highlighted many data figures that appear to contain pixel-for-pixel duplications. The allegedly manipulated images are of data such as Western blots, which are used to detect and visualize the presence of proteins in a complex mixture. DFCI Research Integrity Officer Barrett Rollins told The Harvard Crimson that David had contacted DFCI with allegations of data manipulation in 57 DFCI-led studies. Rollins said that the institute is "committed to a culture of accountability and integrity," and that "every inquiry about research integrity is examined fully."

The allegations are against: DFCI President and CEO Laurie Glimcher, Executive Vice President and COO William Hahn, Senior Vice President for Experimental Medicine Irene Ghobrial, and Harvard Medical School professor Kenneth Anderson.
David said on his website that such fraud explains "why the progress in cancer research is so slow despite billions being invested into basic research."

David shared dozens of pictures like the one above showing dozens of researchers allegedly copy/pasting and faking their data.

"[W]e only see the tiny tip of the fraud iceberg image data duplications, the last resort of a failed scientist after every other trick failed to provide the desired result," David said. "Billions of dollars were burned for this cancerous trash science, but it made many academic careers, some got very rich, and entire dynasties established themselves at Dana Farber."

From Nature, "Dana-Farber retractions: meet the blogger who spotted problems in dozens of cancer papers":
NATURE: What's your usual process when you're combing through a paper?

SHOLTO DAVID: It's going to depend on the problem that I might expect to find. A few months ago, [the open-access journal] PLoS One retracted nine papers, and these were all to do with gastric-damage stuff. In that case, I was looking for image reuse between papers. I went and I got all of this guy's papers, and I cropped all of the images out of all the papers, put it in a giant folder and then resized them all. And I used a script to feed it into ImageTwin [software that compares images in a paper with more than 25 million images from other publications]. But for the DFCI stuff, a lot of what I found and what had been previously posted [on PubPeer] is duplicated images within the same paper. ImageTwin is really useful for these things.

I note and collect the errors on PubPeer, write a blog, send the blog to the [journal] publisher and university.
The scale of the alleged fraud is staggering but it's not all that surprising considering the billions of dollars in government grants flowing to these institutions for "research."

You have to wonder how many more medical breakthroughs we'd already have if such institutions weren't run by (alleged) shysters.

[Header image of Laurie Glimcher by World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED]

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