Several Cancer Studies Retracted by Harvard-affiliated Researchers Over Fabricated Data

Retraction comes amid growing concerns that researchers are often pressured to produce results in a toxic "publish or perish" scientific community

Amid allegations that data was falsified and manipulated, a prominent Harvard-affiliated research facility has decided to retract six scientific studies, and correct at least 31 more published papers that were conducted by various researchers.

Earlier this month, a British biologist launched allegations of faulty data and doctored images in 58 cancer medical studies conducted at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, as well as several other medical labs.

An investigation was launched at the Dana-Farber Institute after Dr. Sholto David, a British molecular biologist, examined hundreds of medical studies for false or duplicated data.

As a result of the findings, the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston, affiliated with Harvard and one of the nation’s most prestigious cancer treatment research facilities, agreed to retract six studies and correct data from 31 more. It also indicated several of the studies David pointed to as falsified had been reviewed and were not faulty, but will continue to investigate the data.

Data and Images Duplicated and Fabricated

The allegations indicate images in the studies were stretched, obscured, copied, or spliced together. In other cases, data was duplicated or fabricated, in what many are calling deliberate attempts to mislead.

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The studies, published from 1999 to 2018, include research on multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer, and immune cells in the body.

The research was published by the President and CEO of Dana-Farber, Dr. Laurie Glimcher; the Chief Operating Officer, Dr. William Hahn; Senior Vice President for Experimental Medicine, Irene M. Ghobrial; Harvard Medical School Professor Kenneth C. Anderson; and the Institute’s research integrity officer, Dr. Barrett Rollins, among others.

David reviewed the studies on his own time and with little funding, and published his findings in a blog post in early January. He also left nearly 2,000 comments regarding his findings on PubPeer, a website that receives public feedback on published scientific studies.

Fraudulent Research Problems

In recent years, there has been an increase in allegations of falsified data involving researchers from prestigious universities, such as Stanford and Harvard. Experts point to a toxic culture of “publish or perish” in academia that pressures researchers to generate results at any cost.

Improvements in artificial intelligence tools developed in recent years have helped review and flag duplicated or suspicious images, which may point to falsified results. The AI reviews are often conducted much more quickly than human reviews.

David said he’s less worried about false data in one specific study or another, but more concerned about the entire process of research, publishing, and review. The problem points to issues with conflicts of interest and internal reviews which is a much larger problem in academia.

The Dana-Farber Institute is conducting an internal review of the allegations. So far, it agreed to retract six studies, but will continue to evaluate other findings and address any discrepancies in the nearly 60 other studies flagged.

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