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Riken says it was unable to replicate stem cell results

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By Harumi Ozawa

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Earlier this month Obokata’s co-author, stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai, hanged himself, further shaking Japan’s scientific establishment.

On Wednesday, Riken also announced a shake-up of the Center for Developmental Biology where the scandal took place, adding it planned to cut about half of its 40 laboratories.

Obokata's fraudulent research has had real human cost. Her co-author could not take the humiliation and committed suicide, and a lot of researchers will lose jobs in these 40 labs they are closing. And it may be difficult for them to find jobs, since Riken is now a bad name to have on your CV. No pity for her.

10 ( +17 / -7 )

@jerseyboy How do you know that her research was fraudulent rather than just mistaken?

-9 ( +8 / -17 )

@jerseyboy How do you know that her research was fraudulent rather than just mistaken?

jump -- did you read the article? 22 separate experiments and no one has been able to replicate the results. So if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck ... it probably is a duck.

9 ( +19 / -10 )

jerseyboy -Right on !!!..............The reason Riken is cutting staff is beause it has lost major funding from the government and other corporations.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,the longer these cretans try to resolve the crisis by indecision ,the deeper the damage to Riken AND to the Japanese reasearch industry as a whole....................They need to dismiss Obagata.......................... She was in it way over her head.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Terrible mistakes were made by many. Gotta move on and just continue your research in other ways and let this go.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Just as I predicted.

"Gotta move on.....and let this go."

That's the last thing that should be done. Someone died as a result of this lie and careers ruined. The scientific community needs to figure out how a travesty like this happened and how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Nature said it would tighten procedures to vet future studies submitted for publication."

Indeed, the gender and physical attractiveness of the scientist should not be a point of consideration.

1 ( +11 / -10 )

OMG. I wonder why?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The scientific community needs to figure out how a travesty like this happened and how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

They have. It's called "peer review." Its been in practice for well over a century. And it works pretty well. Scratch that: it works as well as humanely possible.

The problem is Japan's scientists routinely do not submit their research for review.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Obokata’s fallout may have an unexpected insinuation in terms of curtailing number of future female scientists in Japan.

When young female high students across Japan watched Obokata’s rise-and-fall from Japan’s hyped media, one can expect that few of them would be willing to choose the majors mapping out for the careers of scientific researches.

I sincerely hope that Obokata would do everyone including herself a big favor: that is, to stop pretending and wasting public money in the lab and admit the wrongdoing and ask for public forgiveness.

One more thing, Japanese media should leave her alone. enough is enough!

0 ( +5 / -5 )

I wonder if Yoshiki Sasai's family will try and sue Obokata for being responsible for his suicide?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Plenty of blame to share , but it doesn't seem to be happening. I am still undecided as to whether or not Obokata is fraud or just a little nuts. As somebody pointed out above, despite the Japanese mass media canonizing this girl before the votes were in, the peer review system stopped this in its tracks. That being said, however, the culpability of a whole host of others hasn't been questioned to date. Waseda have tried to duck the issue when it comes to handing out PhDs to questionable candidates. NHK seem to have selective amnesia regarding their own role. RIKEN have been rather quiet about other shenanigans within their research. Nature magazine also needs to confess as to how scientific fantasy was published as groundbreaking research. That Harvard professor also needs to say his piece. None of them look good. Despite this, they are all trying to pin it on one runaway post-doc. Although I am inclined to believe the sources in that STAP cells don't exist, part of me would like to see Obokata pull a rabbit out of the hat. Can you imagine the pandemonium if this theory were proven after all? It would be worth it just to see NHK, et. al, doubly humiliated.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I am confused, how can a scientist in its right mind could publish fraudulent results on purpose on an experience that seems quickly reproducible, what was she expecting except a couple of months of media attention and a cut in her funding ?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

You think the first thing you would do is test to see if you could do it again.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

that is awfully fast to say that they haven't been able to replicate her research. after dolly the sheep was cloned from human mammary glands, hence the ms. parton name, it took scientists over a year to replicate the same procedure.

i think it's a bit much to say that there was fraud perpetrated by obokata. many scientists believe that the cells might have been improperly stored or infected during the stap process.

http://www.ipscell.com/

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@Jerseyboy : if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck ... it probably is a duck.

Well it depends on person's view. Have you head about a research on housefly? scientist pulled it's wings and clap in front of it. Housefly didn't fly. conclusion: When you pull off housefly's wing, it becomes deaf.

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

that is awfully fast to say that they haven't been able to replicate her research. after dolly the sheep was cloned from human mammary glands, hence the ms. parton name, it took scientists over a year to replicate the same procedure.

We live in an age of instant gratification. How dare they expect people to wait for as long as it takes.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

"Interim report". Meaning the jury's still out.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@rickyvee: While I like to think that she was simply mistaken and/or there is more time needed to replicate her results...we have two major things going on:

1) She said she had done it multiple times, and that it was fairly easy to do. If this were true then others would replicate at least something which they have not. Therefore either A) she is mistaken or incompetent or B) She is lying.

2) At her level, as a managing scientist of a major "game-changing" experiment like this, you simply can not make mistakes of this magnitude or be this incompetent.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@Eppee "A scientist" is a profession like any other. You get all kinds of people, rivalries, interpersonal issues. You have tons of boring work (that it seems Obokata didn't do much of), deadlines and in the end, your paper will be rejected because of line spacing being 2pt and not 3pt, rather than the result not being reproducible.

A scientist can produce fraudulent results just as any company employee can "fake it" when pressed with deadlines, tempted with a raise (and possibly fame) and hardly ever punished for "mistakes".

2 ( +2 / -0 )

and Japan looks at itself as a leader in stem cell research, this fiasco just proves theyve got a long way to go to claim that title

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

kaynide: At her level, as a managing scientist of a major "game-changing" experiment like this, you simply can not make mistakes of this magnitude or be this incompetent.

I dunno about that. I think she just got caught because she was famous and her topic of research is like the Holy Grail of cell research. Some boring old guy working on some boring old topic could probably scrape along like this for years.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The fundamental problem here is that the media don't have a clue how real science works.

There are literally a hundred thousand things that could have happened in that lab to change the results of the experiment. Yes, nobody can replicate Obokata's results, but when Sir Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin in 1928 he spent another 3 years researching it to try and figure out exactly what it was that he'd discovered, because it was an accidental discovery.

Obokata's paper is flawed, but she definitely found SOMETHING that made IPS cells possible. It was probably an error, but the trick is to find that error and repeat it.

And this is what the media doesn't seem to understand. They're focusing in on the trivial and missing the big picture.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

No checks and on balances. Riken is earning the reputation it deserves. As for the human cost, science is a business, people are a pretty low priority in business.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

What is sad is the media here made her a superhero and now they have basically thrown her under the bus.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

@Turbostat: Agreed, that's why my point 2.

**"as a managing scientist of a major "game-changing" experiment"

If she was working on mice studying minor cells, some DNA traits or the cold no one would probably care. Like you said this was a big deal.

@Frungy: Note that the Sir Alexander spent a further 3 years researching before shooting his mouth off/claiming that he found anything.

It's very important in science to do something along the lines of saying "I found something..I'm not sure what it is but I think it's this. Further research required". Reserved and calm/collected. Obokata was hardly of this thinking when she flaunted around on TV.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I was hoping someone would be able to replicate the results. Lots of shame for Rikken, Waseda, U. and Japan as well here. Also please credit people's ideas when you use them in publications.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Jerseyboy, Of course you wouldn't be able to produce the results if her results were MISTAKEN. My question was, how do you know that she was committing fraud rather than a mistake? I wasn't asking if the results were correct, because they obviously weren't.

I am confused, how can a scientist in its right mind could publish fraudulent results on purpose on an experience that seems quickly reproducible, what was she expecting except a couple of months of media attention and a cut in her funding ?

Exactly, which is what all these accusations against her are failing to consider. If this was some brilliant plan of an evil mad scientist, exactly what does she have to gain here other then her reputation being ruined?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@kaynide

@Turbostat: Agreed, that's why my point 2.

**"as a managing scientist of a major "game-changing" experiment"

If she was working on mice studying minor cells, some DNA traits or the cold no one would probably care. Like you said this was a big deal.

Yeah, sorry, I saw that, too, just after I posted :).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Jerseyboy, you don't have all the facts, so instead of just taking the media's word for everything, stop being so gullible! There's a lot more going on here than we're being told. And if you want to play the blame game, you should take in account all partie's concerned. And just a personal note! If you don't have all your facts straight, it's best you not say anything at all! Just a thought!!

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

I still don't understand why a scientist would publish a paper with such a sensational claim and expect to get away with it... This whole story is ridiculous. Their claims are clearly made up - they found nothing and should own up to it, stop wasting time and focus their efforts on something more constructive. And yeah, there does seem to be a criminal aspect to this as well that should be investigated.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@kaynide

i don't think she is lying. she created stap cells, but perhaps by accident or perhaps as a result of unsterile lab conditions. that s why she hasn't backed down on her claims.

i think the real problem is that why wasn't her mistake found out much earlier? her co-authors, research head and many others all failed in their basic duties. if you want to label anyone incompetent, it would be them.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

kaynideAug. 28, 2014 - 01:05PM JST @Frungy: Note that the Sir Alexander spent a further 3 years researching before shooting his mouth off/claiming that he found anything.

No, he didn't. He published straight away. And he is acknowledged as one of the greatest scientists of this century. This is how science works. You find something interesting, you publish and see if others can replicate your findings.

I would point out that someone recently found an error in Newton's calculations. Does that mean he shouldn't have published, or he is dishonest? No, he merely made a mistake.

There's no evidence of malice in Obokata's publication. Some naive mistakes that should have been picked up in peer review, but nothing that deserves the outflowing of hatred and spite that I'm seeing here.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Jerseyboy: agree and disagree, but it's not just her research that took his life but his and the company's complacence, as well as society's rush for glory before backing it up. More importantly, it says it used some of her research, but I seem to recall her saying she would not give up the key (not published) without a patent while the company demanded the process be published in its entirety for her to get credit -- the danger of which is her losing everything to Riken o a foreigncompanythat rushes to get it patented themselves. So, does she really have some secret key critical to making I work, or was that a lie?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

All the focus is on RIKEN and Obokata but what about everyone else involved? Charles Vacanti (Professor at Harvard Medical School) was a co-author but you never hear anything about him. Why didn't he tell the results were too good to be true? How did the paper pass the editors at Nature, who did they get to review it?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

There's no evidence of malice in Obokata's publication. Some naive mistakes that should have been picked up in peer review, but nothing that deserves the outflowing of hatred and spite that I'm seeing here.

Frungy, as a woman living and working in Japan, I want as much as anybody to believe that Obokata is being unfairly scapegoated. However, the evidence is truly damning. Do you know that she even plagiarised parts of her thesis!?

Not one professional Japanese female that I know trusts or believes in her, and many were skeptical from the start. Some even say that they suspected her of putting on an act, or using her feminine wiles to sway her male mentors, especially on the American side. (You wouldn't be an American male by any chance, would you?)

No, she doesn't deserve to be crucified by the MSM. I'm as horrified as you are. But what she did was wrong, and has badly damaged the world's trust in Japanese stem cell research. So many big names were dragged into this mess (with at least one case ending quite tragically, as you know).

Please let the facts speak for themselves.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

@Frungy: fair enough. Alexander did publish...but as I understand it, he published a year after his accidental discovery and even then simply left it published while he tried to better understand what he found. Not much attention was given at the time and Alexander Fleming was by all accounts very modest about his discovery.

In fact it was almost abandoned by him until another company decided to mass produce penicillin.

On topic: i want to believe her findings, and I truly hope she is vindicated if she is telling the truth...but as it stands right here and right now this woman's refusal to retract her paper will result in the loss of massive jobs and trust for Japanese research. All she had to do was to retract her papers and at least say something like "I will retract, do mor research and bring back more conclusive data". Her supervisors told her to do so, but she would not.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Jeff wrote this

Someone died as a result of this lie and careers ruined.

No. Someone died because he could not face up to the consequences of his own incompetence. Suicide the all too common way out of a bind in Japan. Very sad but very true.

And the purported lie - it has not been proven so take a step back.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@Jerseyboy, Of course you wouldn't be able to produce the results if her results were MISTAKEN. My question was, how do you know that she was committing fraud rather than a mistake? I wasn't asking if the results were correct, because they obviously weren't.

jump -- you really are clutching at straws. Respectfully, you do not publish this kind of research if there is any chance it could be "mistaken". Do you understand the kind of testing, and re-testing, that someone at this level of research is required to do before even considering having it published? We are not talking about a high-school science fair here. This is world-class research occurring over many years, with many protocols involved including blind and double-blind testing. The odds of being "mistaken" if these protocols were followed is almost nil. So, at best, these procedures were not followed in a rush to get published, which in my mind, makes it fraud, since you cannot 100% verify your results, but you published anyway. That is not "mistaken".

1 ( +3 / -2 )

TessaAug. 28, 2014 - 08:54PM JST

There's no evidence of malice in Obokata's publication. Some naive mistakes that should have been picked up in peer review, but nothing that deserves the outflowing of hatred and spite that I'm seeing here.

Frungy, as a woman living and working in Japan, I want as much as anybody to believe that Obokata is being unfairly scapegoated. However, the evidence is truly damning. Do you know that she even plagiarised parts of her thesis!?

Tessa, were you a scientist you'd understand that when you're conducting similar experiments it is just natural to cut and paste the same phrasing. Likewise if I use the same type of genetically engineered rat I do not feel inclined to take a picture of that particular rat. If that is plagiarism then the definition of plagiarism has become so broad that no academic can avoid it. We all have own own particular writing style, and I do NOT cross-check my two dozen or so published papers to see if I have used the same picture or phrasing before. I do not think it is necessary.

The purpose of anti-plagiarism is to stop academics stealing ideas from each other without due acknowledgement, the purpose of anti-plagiarism is not to force academics to find a dozen different ways to say, "The solution was titrated with 5% hydrochloric acid". That's just idiocy.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Jerseyboy, you don't have all the facts, so instead of just taking the media's word for everything, stop being so gullible! There's a lot more going on here than we're being told. And if you want to play the blame game, you should take in account all partie's concerned. And just a personal note! If you don't have all your facts straight, it's best you not say anything at all! Just a thought!!

Genki/Flash -- really? Then why don't you enlighten all of us about the "facts" I don't have, and what "is going on here" that we are not being told?! The facts" I do know is that a researcher claimed a miraculously simple breakthrough that no one else in the world had considered, but had flimsy resaearch to support her claims, and was immediately challenged about her claim. And, now, more damning, neither her own research facility, or independent researchers can duplicate this procedure. Care to dispute those? And, "just a personal note", if you are going to aim an attack on a fellow poster, stating they "don't have all the facts", but offer nothing to support your view, it might be best "you not say anything at all". Just comes across as an overly emotional/defensive rant. Just a thought!!!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Frungy

Technically, repeating 4-5 words in the same order is plagiarism! It isn't a new idea. You probably never truly learned how to do it properly. You don't stop paraphrasing and summarizing because it is convenient.

Tessa, were you a scientist you'd understand that when you're conducting similar experiments it is just natural to cut and paste the same phrasing.

Yeah, that is definitely plagiarism, so I would suggest taking a refresher course on Academic writing. If that is the norm then it will happen again.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Yeah, that is definitely plagiarism, so I would suggest taking a refresher course on Academic writing.

The common definition of plagiarism is "the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work." I plagiarized the proceeding definition, but it seems that merely copying your own work does not seem to fall under the heading of plagiarism.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Miss Obokata is a punk . "the great Stem n cell swindle" "Friggin in the Riken "Pretty blatant "

2 ( +3 / -1 )

When you pursue the cult of celebrity, this is what happens. Same thing happened with the now-disgraced Hwang Woo-suk in South Korea.

Obokata was no doubt given leeway for being photogenic (how else could a "ground-breaking" yet non-replicable piece been published?), the Japanese media lapped it up and played it up, and now it's come back full-circle as an embarrassment to the nation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Correction

Above, I wrote: "The problem is Japan's scientists routinely do not submit their research for review."

This statement is incomplete. I contacted a friend of mine who is an American trained biological research scientist working in Japan. Here is a breakdown of what he said:

Japanese scientist publish in international science and Japanese language science journals. The Japanese language science journals are viewed by the greater international science community as peer review in name only. Meaning, the peer review process in Japan is, well, lax.

This lack of rigor affects the quality of their submission to the international journals, because much of their State of the Field section in the paper (the part where they list what they know and how they know it, i.e. previous studies) is based on functionally non-peer review research.

That said, the hot issue in science today is indeed "reproducibility." And, unfortunately, we are not immune from this problem in the West. According to my friend, whereas in Japan the problem comes from the compromise of the peer review process because of, well, Japanese culture (hierarchy, prestige, 目上、内/外, etc, in the US its....

yeah, wait for it....

Private research.

The profit motive has supplanted academic search for truth. Proprietary interest has kept scientists from sharing their research. And so it cannot be peer reviewed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tessa, were you a scientist you'd understand that when you're conducting similar experiments it is just natural to cut and paste the same phrasing.

I'm also a Ph.D., mine is in Regional Science though, but more prone to have similar phrasing or texts between articles, however the "cut-and-paste" thing will still be plagiarism if you do not give the credit to the original article or author, yes, you can use pictures that are more appealing but if they are not yours and use them without the authorization of the owner is still plagiarism.

I really wanted that Obokata was telling the truth, but the evidence more and more points towards a fraud, in the sense that even if her results came from a mistake, or accident, claiming that she replicated over and over and moreover that was "simple" it sounds like everything was just for the show... a mistake, on this level of research and not admitting that she could have been wrong is fraudulent, you at least would have the decency to tell the world "I have a lead towards a breakthrough discovery... this is my idea and help me to make it true", at this point all the evidence is telling me that she acted somehow arrogant and publish her research to get attention and having no clue of how devastating was for the people around her and the institute if she was wrong.

Right now, I'm inclined to believe that these famous STAP cells aren't real, I mean the starting cells are not ordinary cells, but rather some special cells previously affected by some kind of genetic marker or predisposition (I am not biologist, but for a purpose of being illustrative, I can tell you that I have better regeneration cells than some of my colleagues at work just because I might have been exposed to copper longer than others, or that i'm allergic to sun and therefore i use three times more sunscreen than others, or my father had white hair when he entered his sixties and not before, etc) Let's wait and see and maybe these other researchers, in trying to prove or disprove Obokata would find a real breakthrough...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The researchers will continue their experiments under more diverse conditions while also considering data obtained by Obokata herself, Shinichi Aizawa, a special adviser at Riken, told a lengthy press conference.

;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;''

This is just Riken's explanation of current research progress report. Instead of hiding. We will wait how it will be in future.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

For the people that say she made a mistake, I don't know how scientifically sound it is for her to not conduct follow-up testing to confirm her findings. If she would have tried to replicate her own findings before publishing her report, she would've seen that there was a mistake in her initial test. However, she went with it and is upset that she got caught. Quite possible her coauthor did something wrong and told her to keep her mouth shut and then killed himself when the case started to get to hot.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

SilvafanAug. 28, 2014 - 10:57PM JST Technically, repeating 4-5 words in the same order is plagiarism! It isn't a new idea. You probably never truly learned how to do it properly. You don't stop paraphrasing and summarizing because it is convenient.

Actually Silvafan 4-5 word repeated in the same order would be regarded as plagiarism by some. However you seem to be draw the line where I do, that plagiarism requires that an idea be copied... BUT then you go on to spew this nonsense:

Tessa, were you a scientist you'd understand that when you're conducting similar experiments it is just natural to cut and paste the same phrasing.

Yeah, that is definitely plagiarism, so I would suggest taking a refresher course on Academic writing. If that is the norm then it will happen again.

A standard procedure is NOT a new idea. It is a standard procedure, one that is performed by thousands of scientists around the world every day.

And this is where you (and Tessa and the media in general) just don't understand what plagiarism really is. Obokata wasn't misrepresenting someone else's idea as her own, the portions of her thesis that people claim are plagiarised? They're STANDARD LABORATORY PROCEDURE!!!

So I don't need a "refresher course on Academic writing", you're the one that needs it, and a healthy injection of common sense too.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Don't cry Obokata... Error is human.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Start your engines!

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/09/16/national/science-health/obokatas-mentor-admits-stap-cell-creation-not-easy

Obokata’s mentor admits STAP cell creation not easy, Sep 16, 2014 -

Charles Vacanti, a Harvard University professor and key co-author of retracted STAP cell articles, and his fellow Japanese researcher have published a revised protocol to produce the pluripotent stem cells, admitting creating the cells is not easy. ....

In the revised protocol, posted online Sept. 3, the Vacanti group advises researchers who may try to produce STAP cells to use a low acidic solution containing adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, claiming ATP “dramatically increased the efficiency” of the conversion of mature cells into STAP cells as a supplemental energy source.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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