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More Studies by Columbia Cancer Researchers Are Retracted

Scientists in a prominent cancer lab at Columbia University have now had four studies retracted and a stern note added to a fifth accusing it of “severe abuse of the scientific publishing system,” the latest fallout from research misconduct allegations recently leveled against several leading cancer scientists.

A scientific sleuth in Britain last year uncovered discrepancies in data published by the Columbia lab, including the reuse of photos and other images across different papers. The New York Times reported last month that a medical journal in 2022 had quietly taken down a stomach cancer study by the researchers after an internal inquiry by the journal found ethics violations.

Despite that study’s removal, the researchers — Dr. Sam Yoon, chief of a cancer surgery division at Columbia University’s medical center, and Changhwan Yoon, a more junior biologist there — continued publishing studies with suspicious data. Since 2008, the two scientists have collaborated with other researchers on 26 articles that the sleuth, Sholto David, publicly flagged for misrepresenting experiments’ results.

One of those articles was retracted last month after The Times asked publishers about the allegations. In recent weeks, medical journals have retracted three additional studies, which described new strategies for treating cancers of the stomach, head and neck. Other labs had cited the articles in roughly 90 papers.

A major scientific publisher also appended a blunt note to the article that it had originally taken down without explanation in 2022. “This reuse (and in part, misrepresentation) of data without appropriate attribution represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system,” it said.

Still, those measures addressed only a small fraction of the lab’s suspect papers. Experts said the episode illustrated not only the extent of unreliable research by top labs, but also the tendency of scientific publishers to respond slowly, if at all, to significant problems once they are detected. As a result, other labs keep relying on questionable work as they pour federal research money into studies, allowing errors to accumulate in the scientific record.

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