Boston Globe: Claudine Gay was railroaded over research integrity. How has Dana-Farber’s Laurie Glimcher avoided that fate so far?

Two leaders have been on the hot seat over research integrity. How they’ve been treated couldn’t be any more different.

I can’t be the only one thinking about Claudine Gay and Laurie Glimcher — and how differently the world is scrutinizing them.

One woman is the first Black woman to be president of Harvard; the other is the first woman to lead Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Both have recently had their academic integrity publicly questioned.

Yet it is Gay who was railroaded, her qualifications impugned. She resigned in infamy on Jan. 2, just three weeks after the first allegation of plagiarism. Gay had only been Harvard’s president since July.

Glimcher, on the other hand, has been afforded the respect and dignity of due process. It has been a month since allegations of data manipulation surfaced related to four research papers she co-authored. An immunologist by training, Glimcher and three other top Dana-Farber researchers have come under scrutiny for potential mistakes in about 50 papers.

Facts: Gay holds a doctorate from Harvard, serves on the faculty, and spent nearly a decade as a dean.

Despite their affiliation with Harvard Medical School, Glimcher and Dana-Farber have fared better under the harsh spotlight. Try as you may, it’s hard to hate Dana-Farber. They fight cancer. They save lives. We all lose if Dana-Farber can’t cure cancer.

So far this scandal has largely been a cause célèbre in the world of science, first brought to light on Jan. 2 by a British blogger who flagged potential errors in several dozen papers by the cancer institute’s scientists.

Dana-Farber will tell you they were already reviewing many of the papers in question. The institute was made aware of allegations of mistakes and had begun a formal review. If a correction or retraction is warranted, Dana-Farber will submit it to the journal in which the paper was published. Separately, Harvard Medical School reviews how the errors happened and whether research misconduct took place, a process that in some cases can take a year or more to adjudicate.

Dana-Farber recently disclosed it would retract six papers and make corrections to 31 manuscripts.

Still, alleged scientific wrongdoing hasn’t provoked the same fury that Gay’s plagiarism did. That’s probably because you don’t need a Ph.D. to know that some phrases in her papers seemed awfully similar to others.

Beyond that, leaders of Dana-Farber took a different approach to dealing with a burgeoning PR crisis. Unlike Harvard, the cancer institute has played offense.

While leaders of the world’s greatest university avoided the media, Dana-Farber made available its research integrity officer, Dr. Barrett Rollins, and its general counsel and chief governance officer, Jennifer Willcox, among others. Dana-Farber quickly offered details about how many papers are under review and their researchers’ roles in those papers.

In many ways, Dana-Farber is deploying a classic crisis management approach by choosing to “tell it all, tell it first, tell it fast,” observed Justine Griffin, a principal at public affairs firm Rasky Partners.

By being proactive, Dana-Farber has prevented someone else from characterizing their narrative. “You skip the drip, drip, drip,” Griffin said.

Because Harvard was not as forthcoming, it left the impression that the university did not have Gay’s back, added Griffin. Meanwhile, Dana-Farber seems to be supporting Glimcher by making sure she’s not singled out in the coverage of the institute’s research troubles.

It’s too early to declare that Glimcher and Dana-Farber have beaten back the bad headlines. The research scandal couldn’t come at a worse time, just as Glimcher and Dana-Farber formally make their case to state regulators for the cancer institute to open a new 300-bed hospital with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

So far Glimcher and Dana-Farber have stayed above the fray. They need to keep it that way if they want to successfully pull off the biggest health care deal in decades.


To read the full article on the Boston Globe’s website, click here.