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Institute rejects stem cell research scientist's appeal

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I saw her getting grilled and apologizing on TV. I felt a bit sorry for her. On the one hand, I don't think she is playing with a full deck. On the other hand, it was everyone asking her questions, and she had no assistance or advocates, and no questions asked from her side. I felt there were plenty of questions to go around, but of course nobody else was willing to stand up and take the heat for how fast they accepted faulty research. And she was the senior researcher. not the only researcher on the project. Where were the subordinates?

13 ( +15 / -2 )

Disappointing but not all that unexpected decision by RIKEN. Poor girl should try abroad or end up as a TV talent in Japan.

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

Dr, Obokata became a guest researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in 2011, then she was appointed as head of the Lab for Cellular Reprogramming in 2013 She is the pioneer of Stem Cell Development field in the world yet. Just she got trouble when Hong Kong research group claimed they could not produce Stem Celll with Obokuta method. Riken just apologized to the Group and that was it. Was it Apri;?

-9 ( +4 / -12 )

If other scientists can't replicate her results, then obviously her research was wrong, possibly faked. If that's the case, then she needs to come clean about it.

16 ( +19 / -3 )

I don't understand why she isn't trying to help other teams to reproduce her results instead of using laywers, press conferences to fight Riken. If she isn't doing it that means she is problably guilty of forgery.

19 ( +22 / -3 )

Just Hong Kong Group. Wall Streeet Journal praised her research. At interview, Riken scientist bowed and bowed, then apologized. Then Obokuta, yoo. Did Japanese custom of apologize. There must be video showing as it was the story in April.

-11 ( +2 / -13 )

some14someMAY. 09, 2014 - 07:22AM JST Disappointing but not all that unexpected decision by RIKEN. Poor girl should try abroad or end up as a TV talent in Jap

Obagata consciously lied, deceived, manpiulated the truth.... She is done . . . . no respectable research institute will touch her.....and the people who were to have supervised her work ,also need to be dismissed. . . . This didn't happen in a vacuum. .

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Haruko Obokata has knowingly chosen a destructive, denial and delusional approach, What a shame!

About month ago, I said if she would openly admit her mistakes and ask for forgiveness,(the way former President Clinton did) , she might be able to survive the scandal and at least salvage her career in some degrees. But, instead, she took the wrong route which was deemed no return.

A lesson should be learned for many Japanese people, young or old, ethics and integrity matter at the end of day.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

Haruko Obokata (小保方 晴子 Obokata Haruko, born June 29, 1983) is a Japanese stem-cell biologist and the Research Unit Leader of the Laboratory for Cellular Reprogramming at RIKEN Centers for Developmental Biology. She developed a radical and remarkably easy way to make cells, called Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP) cells, that can grow into any tissue in the body.However, the Riken research institute started an investigation into claims of irregularities in images of her several articles including the paper associated with the discovery of STAP cell in response to the allegations made on blogs and SNS sites

Because of too many crippled war veterans in USA, STAP research are very important in USA and that is why Wall Street praised her researh, I read. RIKEN is not only rarearch institution, Maybe she should look for USA institutions> She is young but USA does not have age discrimination.

-21 ( +3 / -24 )

US Research facilities do, however, have ethical standards. She has violated those in a very public and humiliating fashion, in addition to having ethical and serious questions raised about her doctorate thesis and its validity. No serious research facility would touch her with a ten meter pole.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

In this case there is no case in defending the STAP paper, It should be retracted for the simple reason that it has no utility. The methods described in the paper don't help in producing STAP cells so it is of no use to keep it on the record.

It may be because of gross mistakes, negligence to follow adequate laboratory practice or deceit but at the end of the day the results are not valid. It may be important for her future career to get the whole story out in the open but for science all is the same. Also, tt is in her best interest to support the retraction, by refusing to acknowledge the problems in the paper she puts more and more doubts in her scientific integrity. Unfortunately, for now Obokata would not get a job in any important research lab, she needs to accept the consequences of the badly written (done?) research and begin again to build her reputation.

On the other hand, it is quite obvious that RIKEN wants her to be the scapegoat and that is just wrong. This scandal is just a reflection of a much bigger problem and putting all the blame on her will not solve anything.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

I agree with TumbleDry somewhat but there is a time for everything and now is probably the time for lawyers to protect herself, prevent RIKEN from just washing their hands if her, and creating enough yoyu space for her to be able to concentrate on phase 2: Prove (or disprove) that there really are STAP cells.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Riken didn't have the perspicacity to corroborate her results before publication? It shows the organisation's shortcomings too.....

16 ( +16 / -0 )

I wonder why she seems alone here. What ever happened to uchi no soto; where are the sempai and kohai? This is Japan, I have reasons to believe that she didn't do this by herself. I also wonder what they are trying to accomplish here while a lot of sick people could still be saved if they just get on with their job.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

“The institute has decided not to review the conclusion and informed the person concerned of the decision as of today, while advising (her) to withdraw the paper,” it said in a statement.

They didn't even review it? Thats cold, I hope she moves to another company and makes them millions.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Regardless of whether she is lying or "young and making mistakes", the damage is done. Of course it's not only on her, but she had numerous other people telling her to retract or revise her data. Even now she stands by her research unwilling to change position. It strikes me as very unscientific to not take on criticisms and revise. She should/could have been much more tactful (again if not lying) and revised her work.

Also, I could see a lab tech making silly mistakes or not knowing how to present research...but this woman is a PhD- at that level, and especially as a head of research, rookie mistakes are simply not acceptable.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Riken didn't have the perspicacity to corroborate her results before publication? It shows the organisation's shortcomings too.....

The board hearing the appeal was chaired by the lawyer Jun Watanabe who, along with other high level RIKEN staff were ALL on the initial investigations commitee that wrote the report which Obokata is appealing against.

Whatever you think about the findings and about Obokata , you can hardly say that it was an impartial and independent review of her appeal. It highlights the problem with appeals being heard by insiders. The idea of assembling a panel of independent outsiders to hear appeals, such as an ombudsman for example, is almost non-existent in Japan.

These are the people who wrote the report that Obokata is appealing against

Ishii, Shunsuke - Chair (Senior Scientist, RIKEN)

Iwama, Atsushi - (Professor, Chiba University)

Koseki, Haruhiko - (Center Deputy Director, RIKEN)

Shinkai, Yoichi - (Chief Scientist, RIKEN)

Taga, Tetsuya - (Vice President, Tokyo Medical and Dental University)

Watanabe, Jun - (Attorney at Law, Watanabe Law Office)

And the people hearing the appeal against their own report. There is not one new and independent member.

Watanabe, Jun, Chair - (On the first committee)

Iwama, Atsushi - (On the first committee)

Koseki, Haruhiko - (On the first committee)

Shinkai, Yoichi - (On the first committee)

Taga, Tetsuya - (On the first committee)

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Just wondering if she insist her result are correct why she do not replicate in front of other researchers?

9 ( +9 / -0 )

this was expected. riken has too much at stake in protecting its name as a "pretigious scientific facility." they want to clean up this mess ASAP, and obokata will be thrown under the bus.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

TumbleDry: I don't understand why she isn't trying to help other teams to reproduce her results instead of using laywers, press conferences to fight Riken. If she isn't doing it that means she is problably guilty of forgery.

Stem cells experiment need license and permission. I don't think she is allowed to do expt until this case resolves (not in Japan atleast). With all these media and Riken back-lashing her I don't think she has enough concentration to do expt either. I don't know which side is right but they should give her at least 1yr to prove the damn thing.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Several reputable Labs in USA, Hong Kong and elsewhere have tried to replicate / develope STAP cells. . . NONE of them have been successful..... The strength in SCIENCE is EVIDENCE , proof, hard data . . . Obagata's work - in spite of her drama- has NONE of that. . . . . She is entirely don in the Intern'l Sciene community...People are laughing . . .TRUST ME . . NO ONE will touch her

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I think she should at least be allowed to show in person how to duplicate the results.....her paper most likely has some missing elements.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This has become news because Riken announced yesterday its rejection of her appeal. There're other old news yesterday such as Omu religious cult or SK ferry accident, etc because of some developments. Nothing nationalism about them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Stem cells experiment need license and permission. I don't think she is allowed to do expt until this case resolves (not in Japan atleast). With all these media and Riken back-lashing her I don't think she has enough concentration to do expt either. I don't know which side is right but they should give her at least 1yr to prove the damn thing.

She can use her existing permit because the procedure, place and the people doing it are still the same as in the original application form. And as long as she can function outside an hospital she can do all the procedures, for people with experience lab work is the same as writing or riding a car, even when shaken you can do it as long as you take care.

It can even be done by other people from her team, their names should also be in the experiment proposal and everyone should be familiar with all the techniques. She would only have to direct them personally so everything is done exactly as she did it. In realy it has been probably already done (since its so easy) and would be included when RIKEN says that they have not been able to replicate the process

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japanese people have been unable to let the issue go because they connect their own national pride too strongly with the case even though the evidence is overwhelming that her research was bad and her results were absolutely falsified.

I'm not familiar with how scientists work and research in Japan so I'm curious what "overwhelming" evidence there is that her research was bad and what makes you think that her results were "absolutely falsified."

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

In the professional world, being recognized by your peers is the ultimate reward. I doubt any peer (research institute in this case) would outright reject a paper/research if there were not flaws particularly with the data.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In_japan: It a published paper. You write your results along the methodology to obtain the said results. It's out in the open, when published. This is how scientific advancement works. Other teams working on stem cells cannot reproduce her results with her methodology. She doesn't need do it herself. Fighting RIKEN seems pointless. She should concentrate on helping other teams to reproduce her results if she is not. Her career and reputation are at stake.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

TumbleDry, forget her research I'm just wondering how you were allowed to write two comments in a row :D JT code should work isn't it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

She is taking the Obama path, just keep lying about it.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

In the end if she is proven correct and honest she will become a near saint.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I saw an advertisement for staff at Royal Host. I think she should apply.

-2 ( +3 / -4 )

I was hoping for her when she first was on the TV getting praise but sorry, she lied, manipulated data (diagrams), ripped of work from others for her PhD and then went on TV and played the damsal in distress with big, fat crocodile tears. She's done women no favours in the science and research feild playing the victim and crying about it. Is the team she worked with shady? Yes. But I have zero sympathy for her when she clearly lied and tried to get away with it all. Perhaps her research IS sound but she's guilty of too many other things to respect her. She's done. As she should be. And so shoudl the guys who are using her as the scapegoat but we all know this is Japan and they'll be fine in their designer leather furniture.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

tmarie : .

She's done women no favours in the science and research feild playing the victim and crying about it. I

RIGHT ON ! Marie . . .She lacks professionalism on every level.

chikv:

she can do all the procedures, for people with experience lab work is the same as writing or riding a car, even when shaken you can do it as long as you take care.

Of course you're dreaming !!!! LOL . . .or you have never engaged in serious science research. . . Research Studies need to have things like CONTROLS, variables need to be itemized, there need to be blind studies,. Everything that is done MUST be logged, dated , often with exact times of the day. . . .ALL of which CAN NOT be done in a CAB. . . .besides No reputable scientist will work with her from now on. . . She's a fake. . . . Even her last name is not a real "Japanese" name. . and It is doubtful that the her Waseda Studies were not "manufactured" - -

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I have the feeling that there is a lot more going on than we see.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

I think that those throwing ALL the blame on her are snakes.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I think that those throwing ALL the blame on her are snakes.

Agreed. Who here honestly thinks Obokata didn't receive pressure from RIKEN to publish her findings asap? Why didn't the peer reviewers raise objections?

It seems like everyone involved in academic research is pressured to publish research and publish it FIRST so they and their institute or university can get the credit. Everything must be cited and proper credit given to others by name dropping them in your article, egos must be massaged, well respected peers must be allowed to review. If these practices didn't exist, I wonder if scientists could go back to being scientists, not superstars who are paraded in front of the media to attract funding. I hope Obokata can find work in the private sector since there is no doubt that she is a talented person, perhaps objectively smarter than any of us posting here.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

sillygirl

I think that those throwing ALL the blame on her are snakes. Nobody is "throwing blame on Her". . Obagata on her very own, independant of any pressure, had her FAKE research published in Nature Magazine. Nobody held a gun to her head to do it. . . Yes Riken Insti. is partly to blame. ... Riken Institute needs to do a major over haul in terms of how it supervises and legitimizes the authenticity of research findings.... However, sillygirl, when people are working at THAT level of research ( such as @ Riken) it behooves them to be HONEST, CONSCIENTIOUS, and be able to BACK their research with tangible results. . . .RIKEN INSTITUTE has an international name . . The work that goes on there has an impact around the world in terms of medical implications. . . it's not just a High School Lab , where , maybe its OK to cheat a bit. . . . The Institute and it's researchers must be RESPONSIBLE

0 ( +2 / -2 )

RIKEN INSTITUTE has an international name . . The work that goes on there has an impact around the world in terms of medical implications.

People might say that this is exactly why RIKEN and RIKEN alone bears the responsibility of ensuring that the work that goes on there measures up to the required standard before it is published in the name of the institute. I'm all for personal responsibility, but unless we understand and deal with the systemic failures first, we are bound to have a similar situation in the future. We are unlikely to shed any light on these systemic failures at RIKEN now that the appeal is being rejected. The investigation report only dealt with what happened and not why it was able to happen. Only RIKEN can allow the appeal, and only current RIKEN management have anything to lose from the findings of any appeal. The conflict of interest is obvious and should be called out. Its not about Obokata really, its about why it was able to happen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Before calling them "STAP" cells, Obogata originally planned to call them "Princess cells" (お姫様細胞) because they are transformed by the (bitter-sweet?) "kiss" of the acid.

In Japan drinking weak acid in the form of vinegar has traditionally been seen as health promoting, as it would be if stem cells could be created by the application of acid. For that matter, stomach ulcers could be potentially rejuvenating.

Stem Cell Blog on STAP http://www.ipscell.com/page/6/?s=stap+&submit=Search

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Two points: first, Obokata must publicly demonstrate her "easy" technique to the world, or else have numerous accredited peers come forward and show how they have accomplished similar results in verifiably controlled tests. To date, and months into the controversy, this has simply not happened. Not one new scientist has been able to use Obokata's technique to produce results.

Secondly and separately, I am surprised to find that there is no information here on Japan Today about the new and shocking accusations against the VERY SCIENTISTS sitting in judgement of Obokata.

Did you know that fully four of the six members on the committee that condemned Ms. Obokata's research have also recently had THEIR OWN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH CALLED INTO SERIOUS QUESTION??

It's true. Last month, on 25 April, the head of the investigation committee, Shunsuke Ishii, resigned from the committee after MANIPULATED images from two of his earlier papers were posted on the Internet. Then, on 30 April, a whistle-blower alleged problems in the images of papers co-authored by two other RIKEN researchers on the committee, Haruhiko Koseki and Yoichi Shinkai. According to this whistle-blower, four papers from Koseki, published between 2003 and 2011, and one paper by Shinkai, published in 2005, contain data that were MANIPULATED in one or two spots!

What's more, also on 30 April, a journalist from the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun notified Tokyo Medical and Dental University of allegations regarding Tetsuya Taga, the university's vice president and another one of the RIKEN panel investigators. Two papers on neural stem cells co-authored by Taga, from 2004 and 2005, each had two illustrations that, the journalist said, appeared to be MANIPULATIONS!

In summary, those put in charge of condemning Obokata for sloppy publications practices now also stand accused of COMMITTING THE EXACT SAME KIND OF ERRORS in their own publications!

http://www.nature.com/news/accusations-pile-up-amid-japan-s-stem-cell-controversy-1.15163

Regardless of the results of Obokata's experiments, and whatever comes of this mess, one fact is inescapable: the credibility of scientific professionalism in Japanese research institutions has certainly taken a huge hit!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

To me Riken has come off absolutely reaking!

To be sure Obokata has make mistakes I didn't hear her deny when it was pointed out.

And yes the media & a lot of others are massively to blame for making the initial story into this monstrosity.............and then the the you know what hit the fan.

And to have all these oyaji all gang up...........pretty pathetic. And then Obokata supposedly is allowed to file an appeal but the SAME oyaji's then tell her they wont even ENTERTAIN her appeal...................very low class.

And in the end we all want to find out if the STAP cells can or cant be produced...........

Riken has come off incredibly bad, if I was a researcher I would AVOID that place like the plague, the place is clearly highly incestuous!!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bunch of old guys clinging with teeth and nails to their confy chairs... and to do so they just trash a young scientist....

Everyone makes mistakes, and in a scientific paper that "ideally" not happen since many people evaluate it before even considering going public.

The decision of publishing the paper and going public was made by the same people that now are judging her.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Who here honestly thinks Obokata didn't receive pressure from RIKEN to publish her findings asap?

I don't. I think she probaby jumped at the chance and went with all the lies. She ripped off 20 pages of her PhD so it's not like the woman has ethics when it comes to research. I doubt taking all the fame and glory of this would be pressure for her. She was more than happy to play the female scientist playing with the big boys.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

semperfi: Of course you're dreaming !!!! LOL . . .or you have never engaged in serious science research. . . Research Studies need to have things like CONTROLS, variables need to be itemized, there need to be blind studies,. Everything that is done MUST be logged, dated , often with exact times of the day. . . .ALL of which CAN NOT be done in a CAB. . . .besides No reputable scientist will work with her from now on. . . She's a fake. . . . Even her last name is not a real "Japanese" name. . and It is doubtful that the her Waseda Studies were not "manufactured"

??? Nobody said that she should do her research in a cab, just that doing the steps described for the STAP cells is as easy as driving for anyone who is experienced enough to be made a team leader. And also, the steps that you mentioned are already done, she would not have to design a new experiment (the difficult part) just do again what she supposedly did before (piece of cake), even more, she only have to be present when somebody else is doing it to confirm that it was done exactly the same. And finally, nobody has to "work with her" just work for RIKEN, do the replication as instructed by her and report the results to the lab. You overestimate the difficulty of repeating an experiment for confirmation if you think is the same as doing it from scratch.

It would take a couple of week max to do dozens of replication in RIKEN because the protocol is already designed and the necessary breeds of mice, cell strains, reactives and machines are already there. So it is absolutely more likely that it has already been done and was reported as unsuccessful.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tmarie

Who here honestly thinks Obokata didn't receive pressure from RIKEN to publish her findings asap? I don't. I think she probaby jumped at the chance and went with all the lies. She ripped off 20 pages of her PhD so it's not like the woman has ethics when it comes to research. I doubt taking all the fame and glory of this would be pressure for her. She was more than happy to play the female scientist playing with the big boys

maire- yes- you are so RIGHT ON, my dear!!!! :)

chikv:

So it is absolutely more likely that it has already been done and was reported as unsuccessful.

Yes. . according to researchers @ Knoepfler Lab in the States - having tried Obagata's method numerous times and ways , the result s :NO SUCCESS, as per this one Researchers notes : "We have tried to generate STAP cells from mouse embryonic fibroblasts, mouse adult neural stem cells and mouse embryonic neural stem cells. We did not observe Oct4-GFP reactivation from either cell type after the exposure to pH5.7, pH 4.7 and pH3.2 at different cell densities (including 100,000 cells/ml described in the paper)."

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@tmarie & @semperfi

What was her motive in your opinion? If she knew that her results were fatally flawed, surely she would realise that others would fail to replicate the experiment within days of publication of the article. Or do you think she overlooked this point? Her fame and glory would last for only a few days, which is exactly what happened. Assuming that she was not trying to end her career, it doesn't make sense for her to publish results that she knew were fake.

I have yet to hear a convincing argument to account for her motive. Until I hear one, I think I can only give her the benefit of the doubt that it was a mistake and wish Obokata and her pet turtle well.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

M3: >

that this is exactly why RIKEN and RIKEN alone bears the responsibility of ensuring that the work that goes on there measures up to the required standard before it is published in the name of the institute.

. ..... .

. On that premise, a bank boasting of its integrity is responsible when an employee embezzles money

.

M3> I have yet to hear a convincing argument to account for her motive

It's a very good question. Why, indeed, would someone with a potentially successful career-start sabotage it with false documentaiton ???? Unless that is the MO that got her this far . . .Sometimes people get so inured to the risks i n their pathology they think they are invincible

0 ( +0 / -0 )

semperfi: Yes. . according to researchers @ Knoepfler Lab in the States

By "it has already been done" I mean Obokata herself repeating the experiment or directing someone step by step, lack of replication of results by other teams or labs is not really that rare, especially in stem cell research where stirring a tube instead of shaking it can change the results.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

chikv: if you read the research by Knoefler et al, you will see the reearchers tried various routes. . . with NO success. But researchers from that lab are NOT the only ones . . Questions by researchers in No America about the validity of her research were raised in January when her stuff came out ( and all of Japan was smitten by her vacuous pretty face ) Besides. . the point of stem cell research is that is CAN be rep;icaed - as Dr Yamanaka's work already is in medical labs all over the world - so that it can be applied for practical medical purposes.. {Which is why he received the Nobel Prize} . . She's a pseudo researcher AT BEST. ..

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I'm very much interested if she was able to recreate her own results post paper release or was this a one time result?

I'm just wondering what her motivation would be to subject herself to such scrutiny if she didn't believe her results to be accurate. I just don't think it was malicious on her part. Horrible application of the scientific method? Yes.

There are many questions, like what happened to the STAP cells produced by the test(s)? Where are the 'control' set of cells? Has a comparison been done since between them? What was the verification and validation procedure to ensure testing accuracy? Was there contamination?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have yet to hear a convincing argument to account for her motive

It is important for the career of a scientist to publish in what are considered the top journals, such as Nature. Forged or just badly written up, Obokata got her paper there and was able to add that to her CV. Had it not been terribly interesting for so many scientists and supposedly easy and cheap to replicate, I doubt she'd have faced the accusations of forgery and bad science so quickly, or at all.

She is the first to suggest STAP cells. Regardless of whether her exact protocol works (i.e. if by small tweaks someone gets it to work), everyone will cite Obokata as the pioneer and the inventor. Probably she also filed for patents, giving monetary incentive as well.

I am sure she never expected her paper to garner this much interest, especially from the public. I am sure hundreds or thousands of scientists make a living out of publishing fake data, and even greater are the numbers of scientists who occasionally do it. The successful ones are the ones that you do not hear about, i.e. those that keep a low profile and publish in medium-tier journals instead of making grandiose claims.

Google "Jan Hendrik Schon" for another large scale scandal in science. That one has been thoroughly analysed and the motives there are quite clear.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The successful ones are the ones that you do not hear about, i.e. those that keep a low profile and publish in medium-tier journals instead of making grandiose claims.

The successful ones make a legitimate contribution to the medical field with relevant applications of their research . . .helping mankind.

.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Yeah, I'm kind of stumped about her motive if she intentionally faked the results. Any procedure involving such a high-profile subject as "replicating stem cells" is going to get scrutinized VERY closely by labs around the world - if only due to professional jealousy. I see ZERO advantages to faking test results even over the short-term, because these other labs will waste no time in publicly refuting anything they cannot reproduce themselves. The impact on the careers of everyone involved in a hoax far outweigh any brief period of fame for the lead researcher. SOMEBODY would have spoken up to save their own career. Yet we don't have that in this case... hmm...

As noted by others, she wasn't performing this research in a vacuum. She had assistants and mentors so I don't for one minute believe she is solely responsible for this error. Before publication, not a single assistant raised their hand and said, "But the research we performed doesn't support the findings"?? Before publication, not a single senior member at RIKEN said, "OK, show me the process"??

I'm left with the impression that the research group actually believed in what they were publishing, but didn't properly account for something in the experiment process.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It is important for the career of a scientist to publish in what are considered the top journals...everyone will cite Obokata as the pioneer and the inventor.

Certainly plausible, but still falls short of convincing for me. The fact that it is so cheap and easy to replicate seems to lend credence to her believing it was true. Also, the research was still in its relatively early stages and there was no suggestion that anyone else was close to acheiving a breakthrough. So why jump the gun and publish now in a cynical attempt to create a lingering uncertainty as to whether you were the first inventor? Why not just run a few more experiments to see if you can genuinly invent STAP cells. I don't think they had exhausted all legitimate possible options yet had they?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What was her motive in your opinion? If she knew that her results were fatally flawed, surely she would realise that others would fail to replicate the experiment within days of publication of the article. Or do you think she overlooked this point? Her fame and glory would last for only a few days, which is exactly what happened. Assuming that she was not trying to end her career, it doesn't make sense for her to publish results that she knew were fake.

Easy. Publish or perish. She's a 30 year old female researcher who needs to establish her career and gain job security. She probably didn't think this research would be noticed and didn't think anything of flubbing the truth - it happens all the time in research and findings and stats are commonly doctored so that researchers "find" what they are looking for. She probably didn't think anyone would really pay attention, let alone read her article, and she'd slide under the radar and get her publishing credit to put on her resume in order to help establish her career. There is plenty of crap research out there being publised just for the sake of publishing and getting it on the resume in order to get feet in doors in job hunting and promotions. No one really reads these things when it comes to jobs, they just accept them in the applications along with the resume as proof of publications.

In her case though, I think Japan is so desperate to "prove" that they really are trying to get more women into sciences and research that she was plucked and held up as an example. The old guys who put their names on the paper clearly didn't take much of an interest in her research - and I doubt even read the damn thing. She took a gamble and lost. Not only with this paper but with her PhD now in question - not to mention Waseda's PhD programs and evaluation system.

Mentors and the like mean nothing here in the academic world. Ripping off papers, putting names on papers for mere translations or even a quick "read over" makes some feel entitled to get their name on the paper - and sometimes as the first name if they are the powerful sempai of all involved. Assistants and the like will keep their trap shut - whistle blowers get shunned s we've all seen here with Woodward and all the minions who sit by and watch various things happen in the work environment. She isn't solely responsible in our sense of responsibilty but she certainly is in the eyes of Japanese academia because she got caught and is making the entire system look as bad as it really is - which is why the big guys are turning her over to the media and keeping their heads down and mouths shut unless to throw her to the dogs. I doubt anyone in the research group read the entire paper let alone actually believed the results she was claiming.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

She probably didn't think this research would be noticed and didn't think anything of flubbing the truth - it happens all the time in research and findings and stats are commonly doctored so that researchers "find" what they are looking for.

Ehh... you DO know what stem cells are, right? ANY published research involving stem cells will get HEAVILY noticed, cross-checked, and the findings verified. Anybody stupid enough to think a paper on stem cell research wouldn't get noticed and vetted would be way too stupid to make it through four years of college, never mind become a scientist at "a respected Japanese institute".

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Personally i think the only experiment Ms. Obokata can reproduce is the big lie itself! She needs to come clean. Its ironic that none of her assistants or other collegues are backing her this tells me she was a person basking in the spot light taking all the glory when the so called experiment was deemed a success. If this is the case this explains why she is on her own to defend not only her research but her reputation.

@Toshiko you mentioned that she should go abroad maybe to the US your thinking as always is so nationalistic and off base. No company in the US would touch her because of the HIGH ethical standards that are placed on scientist in the field had this been the US she would be in jail.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

So why jump the gun and publish now in a cynical attempt to create a lingering uncertainty as to whether you were the first inventor? Why not just run a few more experiments to see if you can genuinly invent STAP cells. I don't think they had exhausted all legitimate possible options yet had they?

If they have evidence suggesting the possible existence of STAP cells, why not publish? Sure, it makes bad science, but I mean, is there anything else than one's own moral compass to stop one from publishing? If you have data that, interpreted a certain way, can be seen as proof of your method, there's no reason not to publish from a career point of view. Referring to Jan Hendrik Schon, he claimed to have produced a new type of semiconductors experimentally. Now these semiconductors had been suggested by theory and Schon fabricated his data to fit what the theories would suggest. Had he succeeded in not getting caught (his method did sound plausible initially), he might have eventually been up for the Nobel prize (he did churn out dozens of Nature/Science papers in a period of a year or so). Now in cell biology there might be no mathematical theory, but from what I understand the idea behind STAP cells is old: That cells can turn pluripotent after external stresses, for example by tobacco, is apparently well established. What Obokata et al. then did is a first proof of concept experiment that this could be done in a controlled fashion. Had they not been accused of fraudulent data, this would have given them name as pioneers even if they actually had not produced STAP cells and later researchers after extensive changes to the procedure of Obokata finally managed to make it work.

In some sense it helps in science if you do not read too many papers: If you are unaware of what other people have been doing, you have no moral dilemmas should you rediscover and publish the same stuff yourself. In much the same way if you publish preliminary data (supposing it is documented well enough that it can be published) without proper checks, you can be free of moral qualms that a proper data set showing your initial hypothesis wrong might cause. In any case, if you do the proper analysis later and it supports your initial finding, you can publish that too if you word everything a bit differently. It is in fact common (in physics at least) that you first publish a Letter (in PRL, the most prestigious of physics journals) which is limited to some 4 pages and then pump out detailed analyses and applications in "lesser" journals, which do not have such stringent length limitations.

Indeed, as pointed out by tmarie, it is very much a possibility that the more senior authors never actually even read the paper properly (as in, read and understood at the level that they could themselves even in principle replicate the findings were they to head down to the lab and try). While again not good science, this is very common in the academic world. I think the academia is any many ways dysfunctional, but this is not really what the present discussion is about (to certain extent it of course is, if you really look for the fundamental causes as to how the Obokata mess could have happened: Why is it the case that in the culture of her lab data mislabeling and occasional copy-pasting was considered ok? Why were the senior authors, clearly, not very aware of what was, scientifically, going on? How did the paper pass peer review? Why did Nature not retract the paper? Why did they refuse to publish a comment by the Hong Kong group? The latter two are addressed to Nature in particular, which does not represent the whole academic community.)

2 ( +3 / -1 )

As long as the oyaji network is protected, that's all that matters. Oh, wait? That's not true? Given RIKEN protecting senior scientists who had to peer review her paper but hanging her out to dry instead of course it's true. This is therefore a theory supported by the available evidence, subject to repeatable outcomes

2 ( +2 / -0 )

semperfi: if you read the research by Knoefler et al, you will see the reearchers tried various routes. . . with NO success. But researchers from that lab are NOT the only ones . . Questions by researchers in No America about the validity of her research were raised in January when her stuff came out ( and all of Japan was smitten by her vacuous pretty face )

Again, in stemcell research the lack of reproducibility of results is nothing new or even rare. There have been a lot of papers that eventually got validated but that at the beginning could not been replicated even when tried by collaborating teams on the same country. As long as Obokata was not the one doing it there is always the possibility of others just doing the replication "wrong" (meaning slightly differently) and the results would get eventually confirmed.

But once again, it is naive to think that RIKEN has not tried to replicate the experiments under Obokata's presence because it is the easiest thing to do. When RIKEN says "has not been able to replicate" it most likely means that even her could not get again the STAP cells, and by being the same person doing the same protocol with the same reactives, mice and cells in the same place you are completely out of excuses.

In short, lack of reproducibility by other labs is expected up to a certain point (because happens all the time in stem cell research) but when RIKEN says the same it becomes damning to her.

Tmarie: Easy. Publish or perish. She's a 30 year old female researcher who needs to establish her career and gain job security. She probably didn't think this research would be noticed and didn't think anything of flubbing the truth

That reason is highly unlikely, not only she published in one of the highest ranking journals (and assured maximum attention would be put on it) but also made the focus of paper the relative ease to produce the STAP cells, that would mean that anybody in steam cell research would immediately try to replicate her results. If you see the grossest examples of scientific malpractice (for that the site "retraction watch" is a nice resource) it is much more common to fabricate data on relatively obscure journals or in a work that can't be easily replicated.

For example, in order to fake a paper with less chance of being found she could just have used in-house cell lines or proprietary processes of RIKEN to obtain cells instead of easily obtained cells from a common breed of mice. That would still be published by a nice journal and would have limited the replication trials to only those close enough to her lab to have the same cells.

That of course does not mean she willingly faked the results, just that there are quite a lot of thing the could have done to hide the lies. If her results are faked then this way of doing things assures that people would find out as soon as possible (some researchers even think about her doing it on purpose to sabotage RIKEN's name).

lamda:

In some sense it helps in science if you do not read too many papers

Actually that makes no sense, if you do not read as many papers as you can (and then some) you find yourself out of academia very soon. What you have to do is just not trust them blindly and always remember that papers may be fake or wrong.

If you are unaware of what other people have been doing, you have no moral dilemmas should you rediscover and publish the same stuff yourself.

Unfortunately that would cost you your work, first because your research proposals (and budget) would be rejected when people familiar with your field notice that you want to use money just to unknowingly replicate other peoples results. Or if you get your budget, by failing to justify its expenditure because you can only publish your results in the "japanese journal of replication" instead of "Science" precisely because somebody else had already done that.

Specifically, the discussion part of the paper is just there to prove that you have read all pertinent materials and can justify your results against them, of course it is quite easy to discuss how you got the same results as somebody else by doing the same things (but not really interesting) but a good scientist will also include references that contradict your findings (hopefully with more evidence in your favor).

In much the same way if you publish preliminary data (supposing it is documented well enough that it can be published) without proper checks, you can be free of moral qualms that a proper data set showing your initial hypothesis wrong might cause.

Peer review of big journals would throw away preliminary data unless it is completely validated by a proper analysis (meaning it stop being preliminary data) even if they don't publish it.

In any case. if you do the proper analysis later and it supports your initial finding, you can publish that too if you word everything a bit differently

That would be unethical and maybe even ground for retraction because of "self-plagiarism" you can publish other paper only if you get different data or analyze it in order to find something different, not if you re-analyze it to find the same thing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ehh... you DO know what stem cells are, right? ANY published research involving stem cells will get HEAVILY noticed, cross-checked, and the findings verified. Anybody stupid enough to think a paper on stem cell research wouldn't get noticed and vetted would be way too stupid to make it through four years of college, never mind become a scientist at "a respected Japanese institute".

You're pretty naive if you think ALL stem cell research is well noticed and verified. More so if done in Japan. She was dumb enough to rip off 20 pages from an American government website for her PhD so I don't think she's playing with a full deck in those regards. "Respected Japanese insttute" doesn't actually mean too much when you consider how so many got their positions in them - going to the right schools, knowing the right people and making sure you've got the right publishings, verified or not. Sempai get their kohai in regardless of brains and ability.

Plenty of researchers publish "new findings" that can't really be disproven because they really can't be proven - Krashen comes to mind if you have a Ling background. He's made a fine career out of it and is disliked by more established researchers because he's claimed something but have never been able to proven it. This woman very well may be on the right path but since no one is able to reproduce her results, clearly an issue. As to why she's done what she has, no idea. She's too busy crying and pleading innocence rather than reproduce anything or explain herself.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Actually that makes no sense, if you do not read as many papers as you can (and then some) you find yourself out of academia very soon. What you have to do is just not trust them blindly and always remember that papers may be fake or wrong.

It seems mindboggling to me, but most of my friends in academia do not use an RSS reader. They are then obviously not up to date on the latest developments, and often might pursue research already recently done somewhere else. The problem is exacerbated in Japan, which is geographically far away from other research centers (so the conferences are not so easy to travel to), and where the language barriers are big (even the ones who can speak English might find reading and understanding 200 headlines/abstracts a day, something basically required just to stay up to date, too big of a task).

I find myself quite often telling other people that they should not pursue a certain line of research, for I have seen a recent publication on the matter. This rarely discourages anyone, they'll just do the similar thing with a different spin (and their take will assuredly be a bit different if they are unaware of the previous work; if a referee catches them, they'll just write in a few sentences about how their work is in a way a bit different from the preceding ones or try another journal and hope for a more oblivious referee). It is quite easy to argue that what matters perhaps most for one's career is the number of publications, and this is an easy way to get them (how many articles are ever retracted for just being stupid, anyway; most of the time nobody even bothers to write a Comment).

Anyway, my argument here is basically the following: what drives research is curiosity and not knowing stuff. And what better way to not be in the know but by staying willfully ignorant?

Take any given interdisciplinary field and next to no one is up to date. Least of all it seems the referees, for I've seen several methods claimed as novel being published in some "high level" journals (e.g. PNAS), whereas in actuality the methods might have been invented dozens, sometimes hundreds, of years ago. Perhaps even more often the research is completely trivial and previous work already if not explicitly used the same methods to get the results, already had given strong arguments of what would happen if you were to do so. Not a top journal, but perhaps the most infamous example of them all: http://beta.slashdot.org/story/144664. Grants are of course a whole matter in itself, for you'll be making quite grandiose claims, similar to what you might write in the introduction section of a paper. Referees often have difficulty judging these, and again, they are more often than not unaware of all the latest developments themselves, too.

And why should the referees care? Their careers benefit if their referees in turn don't care and don't know when they publish and so the circle jerk goes on.

That would be unethical and maybe even ground for retraction because of "self-plagiarism" you can publish other paper only if you get different data or analyze it in order to find something different, not if you re-analyze it to find the same thing.

Well surely when you have the larger dataset (i.e. proper data) you'll find something new. Probably you'll go through all the ideas that were not interesting enough for the initial set of data. Publications of this type are not only common, but explicitly encouraged by the journals. For example the ACS guidelines say about Letters that "A more comprehensive study containing significant additional data and/or analysis could be published subsequently as an Article." The full data set, as I interpret it, would certainly constitute significant additional data, and it is always possible to come up with new types of analyses for this data (and if you're not completely dim, I'm sure you'll have some new ideas, even if nothing out of the ordinary or copied from elsewhere, as to what to look in it, anyway).

Sure, I paint a bit of an overly bleak picture here, but I do hope you understand the points I am trying to make. I am trying to say several things at once, and thus my text came out a bit confusing and convoluted.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The problem is exacerbated in Japan, which is geographically far away from other research centers (so the conferences are not so easy to travel to), and where the language barriers are big (even the ones who can speak English might find reading and understanding 200 headlines/abstracts a day, something basically required just to stay up to date, too big of a task)

Unless you have really no specific purpose on your research there is no need to read more than 5 to 10 abstracts a day. For most researchers (at least in biological sciences) your work is never as broad as "breast cancer" or "HIV" but more of "genetic markers for predisposition of breast cancer" or "antiviral drug development for HIV treatment". And conferences in Japan are fortunately quite numerous, I work on a small institute nowhere near Tokyo (Kyuushuu) and it still manage to organize 2 international meetings on my field every year, if I can travel inside Japan that goes up to 12-15 and if I include the conferences only in Japanese you can easily find 30, of course nobody will go to all, but if go to the best 2 or 3 every year I still can get quite a lot of information.

Anyway, my argument here is basically the following: what drives research is curiosity and not knowing stuff. And what better way to not be in the know but by staying willfully ignorant?

In a world with unlimited resources you may want to pursue research just for the fun of finding things by yourself, but in the real situation research is not the purpose but the mean to obtain progress. Yes, finding again what is already known has its value as one of the tools to validate research, but it is normally much more cost-effective to find out something that nobody else knows already. If you remain willfully ignorant you could research your whole life but contribute very little to the scientific knowledge, on the other hand if you choose a field and try to keep informed what other people found you can find much more useful things and even avoid problems that you would have to find for yourself wasting time and money.

Well surely when you have the larger dataset (i.e. proper data) you'll find something new. Probably you'll go through all the ideas that were not interesting enough for the initial set of data. Publications of this type are not only common, but explicitly encouraged by the journals. "

The difference is in the amount of work you have to do for the new paper, one thing is for example publish the preliminary data for the first year of research of a program and second paper at the end of the 5 years of the full project, another completely different thing is to publish an incomplete analysis first and then do a second publication with a more more complete analysis "changing the wording". If your preliminary data can be easily converted in proper data that will be the first criticism of the reviewers when you submit the manuscript.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Unless you have really no specific purpose on your research there is no need to read more than 5 to 10 abstracts a day.

The problem is, however, finding those abstracts, and this typically requires one to go through the order of a hundred papers a day. Granted, you'll probably only read the titles of most. The more you prefilter (say by journals, keywords, tags, PACS, or authors), the more likely you are to miss out on relevant research that has already been done in a related, but not your specific, field. Now, publishing stuff essentially lifted from different fields (again, one might be unaware of the original, and come up with the "new" idea themselves) and worded with your field's jargon can add to the knowledgebase of your field, but the research in itself is nevertheless fundamentally old and trivial (often being an inferior replication of the original). A whole lot of papers fall into this category of transferring knowledge (rather than really creating it). I could give you endless examples, but I'd rather not name anybody specific.

I work in a rather interdisciplinary field and things that are essentially taught in physics (my background) freshman classes are being rediscovered and published as new methods on a weekly basis by those with different educational backgrounds. Had I not studied physics, I could be oblivious to this fact and be content coauthoring those pieces, which often end up garnering quite a few citations (and for this, I am blaming the circle jerk effect). These sort of papers clearly have a market, and they probably do transfer knowledge and are thus not of zero value, but what I am basically saying is that I could probably write papers like this every month if I wanted to rack up my publication count (I'm not saying it is zero work and that I could write these every week: You still have to come up with the data, even though this is usually the easy part). I do get upset when I see people with long publication lists when I know that they have never really contributed anything truly new or had a single original idea. So basically my posts here, the present one included, are a bit of a rant.

While conferences are numerous, and somewhat international, I have met very few of the scientists in Japan that I met in conferences in the States or when I was working in Europe. Mind you, I have not considerably changed my research field and still go to the similarly themed conferences. People simply do not want to travel very far for a three day conference (the ones that do come to Japan are usually collaborators staying for a longer while, and you should be somewhat aware of their research anyway. Even if they are not collaborating with your lab, they are the ones that travel to Japan several times a year, so not the kind of typical attendee you'd meet in Europe, say). It's not all bad, of course, for I get privileged access to Japanese research, but a LOT of the domestic conferences are held in Japanese, and few foreigners have the language skills to do and discuss science in Japanese.

If you remain willfully ignorant you could research your whole life but contribute very little to the scientific knowledge

Don't get me wrong, of course I agree with you in that you should strive to contribute new things, and that rehashing old things is in a way fundamentally useless. That is, as you pointed out, the point of science. My argument merely was that the way academia is set up, if you want a position/be successful, this might not be the rational thing to do. The reason I brought up flaws in academia in a discussion about Obokata in the first place was to point out that the incentives are very badly set up, and this can lead to all sorts of unethical and misguided behaviour. Academia typically does not reward the scientists, but rather the managers (you know, the lab head types with 30 different project to manage but little knowledge of what actually goes on in the details; they still get their names to the end of the author list, but if there's any problems with the paper, they can apparently claim ignorance and just blame it all on the first author).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"But within weeks of her paper being published in the prestigious journal Nature, questions began to emerge, with fellow scientists saying they could not replicate her results."

And still now, no one has been able to replicate her results. Damn...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

RIKEN and Nature - written earlier... In the July 2013 issue N0 4. of QBITS, the 8-page newsletter of Riken QBiC, there is a 2-page article on Nature and it's Tokyo office, discussing how the internet has changed the business model of publishing and the value Nature has for Japanese science, and how they had been trying to change the perception that publicising in Nature was difficult, and encourage more authors to submit their papers. It certainly happened, and their office has grown rapidly, from 3 staff to over 100. Maybe Nature has succumbed to accepting lower quality papers in return for business growth? Riken now numbers in the top 10 institutes among non-English speaking countries worldwide.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I all for believing that RIKEN is also at fault for allowing this to happen, but I'm with marie in this one:

She was more than happy to play the female scientist playing with the big boys.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Question to other commenters: if she played false that is bad of course, but why do people (and the media) get so worked up over this case for months on end?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Mostly for the same reasons it was news in the first place. The media went crazy for a young female scientist with a strong personality that managed an important discovery with important implication in health in the future while working in a respected japanese research institute.

Now, every person who got their hopes up with her and her research, that felt she represented a nice change for science in Japan or that just liked her quirks feel betrayed and follows the news to know how much was a lie. Add the scandal of the research institute, scientific journal and collaborators losing their good reputation because of too much trust in her results without proper review and you get a story that goes and goes...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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