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24 Jan, 2024 14:55

Harvard cancer researchers accused of faking findings

The scientists copied and pasted images to spoof test results, a British expert has alleged
Harvard cancer researchers accused of faking findings

A US cancer research center linked with Harvard University has retracted six studies and corrected dozens of others, after a British scientist discovered their authors falsified data by “photoshopping” images of cell samples and test results.

In a statement to CNN on Monday, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston said that it was reviewing 50 research papers by four of its top scientists, including the institute’s CEO, Dr. Laurie Glimcher, and its chief operating officer, Dr. William Hahn. 

Six manuscripts “have retractions underway,” 31 have been “identified as warranting corrections” and another one “remains under examination” for an error, a Dana-Farber spokesman told the network.

The alleged fabrications were discovered by British molecular biologist and 'data sleuth' Sholto David, who compiled them in a blog post earlier this month. David found that images in the papers were stretched, spliced, or outright copied and pasted in order to falsify test results. 

In one instance, a photograph of four laboratory mice taken on the first day of a research project was seemingly copied and presented as a photo from the 16th day of the project, in an apparent effort to falsely claim that a particular treatment had halted the progress of tumors.

In another, Dr. Hahn allegedly faked the results of multiple ‘Western Blot’ tests, which are used to detect specific proteins associated with cancer, autoimmune disease, and prion disorders.

"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,” David wrote in the blog post. 

Dana-Farber disputed some of David’s findings, with its spokesman arguing that some of the data cited was generated in outside laboratories, and that “image discrepancies” can often be erroneously flagged as deliberate fakes. The spokesman did not say whether this was the case for any specific “discrepancies” highlighted by David.

Dana-Farber is a teaching affiliate of Harvard University, and all four researchers accused of fraud have faculty appointments at Harvard Medical School. News of the alleged forgeries comes on the heels of a major plagiarism scandal at the University, in which university President Claudine Gay was accused of more than 50 incidents of academic theft, including in her doctoral dissertation.

While an internal investigation cleared Gay of “research misconduct” in December, critics claimed that the university rushed its probe in an effort to protect Gay. As new accusations of academic fraud rolled in, Gay resigned earlier this month, having served the shortest presidency in Harvard’s 388-year history.