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Nobel laureate calls handling of stem cell research data sloppy

28 Comments
By Kiyoshi Takenaka

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Let's not forget the whee little bit of plagiarism in her Nature paper and her Waseda doctoral thesis as well now shall we.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

It was a multi-site study, including Harvard. It seems (at this point) more likely that the paper itself was defective (hastily written?) rather than the STAP phenomenon itself being fake or an artifact of the experimental setup. One question is whether the paper explains the process in enough detail for others to replicate the effect.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The press were making such a fuss about how beautiful and smart this lady was. Poor lady, thrusted into the limelight and now falling from grace. Hope she can prove her research was all it was hyped up to be.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Vctokyo, the "poor" girl copy-pasted the introduction of her PhD thesis, used unrelated data for an important paper, doctored several images, and nobody could reproduce her results to data. And guess who is funding her antics? Well, that's you and me, the tax payers.

There is a possibility that indeed she is a very gifted researcher and the discovery is genuine, but she is very poor with handling and processing data, and with writing papers. That would be the least damaging scenario, at least for science. Even in that case, due to plagiarism on the thesis, her degree must be revoked, and due to the problems with the data, the Nature papers must be retracted, and if the science is there, resubmitted after carefully redoing the experiments. If she intentionally manipulated data and the Stap discovery is a hoax, than put her in jail (because I assume she cannot return all the research money)

1 ( +5 / -4 )

for a true geek's guide to how the scientific community is viewing this, take a look at this site: http://www.ipscell.com/

there's a lot of language the layman can't understand, but there's also lots of good analyses about the various problems with the research paper.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

From the guest post on March 13 in the good link above - a damning assessment by Robert Geller, seismologist at the University of Tokyo.

First, to take a random example, the Obokata et al. article refers to "pasture pipettes" rather than "Pasteur pipettes." The existence of such an obvious error suggests that the nine authors, as well as the referees, editors, and copy editors were all, to put it bluntly, slackers.

and further down

Two co-authors of the Nature article, Masayuki Yamato (Tokyo Women's Medical University) and Charles A. Vacanti (Harvard Medical School) were also external examiners for Obokata's Ph.D. thesis at Waseda University in 2011. It is hard to believe that neither they nor the two internal examiners failed to notice the complete absence of cited references in the introductory chapter to the thesis, which could and should have led to the discovery that it was plagiarized from the National Institutes of Health home page, and should have in turn led to an investigation that might well have uncovered some of the other major problems. In view of these problems it is hard to see how this thesis can, on reexamination, be judged as appropriate justification for award of the Ph.D. degree. One hopes that this is an isolated case rather than the tip of a giant iceberg, but probably every university in Japan, not just Waseda, should conduct a systematic investigation of all of their Ph.D. theses, taking appropriate actions in all cases of large-scale plagiarism or data manipulation. This is obviously something most university administrators would rather not face up to, and I personally hope that a large number of problems are not uncovered, but the health of the scientific enterprise demands integrity.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

One interesting thing is all the co-authors on the papers. For one of them the authors are:

Haruko Obokata, Teruhiko Wakayama, Yoshiki Sasai, Koji Kojima, Martin P. Vacanti,

Hitoshi Niwa, Masayuki Yamato & Charles A. Vacanti

It seeems Obokata alone wrote the papers and the others get their names put on and seem productive.

Or am I missing something?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I just hope that Obokata isn't being thrown under the bus. If the science is found to be sound, then rewrite the report with assistance.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

zabutonsenbei, I just hope Obokata doesn't throw herself under the bus.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@rickyvee You beat me to it, is that the UC Davis link?

There are two distinct issues at play here. One is that the academic preparation by the leading author of these papers has been atrocious. On top of this, a rudimentary checking of her previous work has thrown up numerous red flags (plagiarism), etc. The net result is that far from being a rock star in the scientific community here in Japan, she is going to be thrown under a bus for the greater good (and rightly so). Moreover, the people in charge of her who let things get out of hand are also for the high jump.

The second issue here is the replication of these results. Terry Wakayama out at Yamanashi wanted out of this article because folks overseas haven't been able to replicate the findings. That being said, as Wakayama pointed out, it took 18 months for Dolly the Cloned Sheep to be replicated way back when. Moreover, having spoken to somebody involved in similar work overseas, the general opinion is that RIKEN have not helped matters due to the very poor set of procedural instructions they issued for replication processes.

To put it simply, it seems that Obokata was oversold as something she isn't and RIKEN stuffed up as well.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

From the guest post on March 13 in the good link above - a damning assessment by Robert Geller, seismologist at the University of Tokyo.

Excellent. Published on March 13, a day before the official press conference and Prof. Geller seems to have correctly predicted that Obokata would be thrown under the bus, and her co-authors simply reprimanded, in order to save the faces of the bureaucrats that control RIKEN.

I’m afraid that until this system is changed, which seems unlikely to happen any time soon, the structural problems that led to the STAP cell mess won’t be corrected, and business as usual will continue.

How well he knows Japan!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

vctokyo: "The press were making such a fuss about how beautiful and smart this lady was"

Not just the media, but every Tom, Dick, and Harry in Japan was boasting about this woman's achievements, and now all seem pretty embarrassed. She IS being thrown under the bus, to an extent, and some have suggested it's because she's a young woman and such a discovery shows up the old boys who haven't come up with anything (so they scrutinize every detail to find fault), but the fact remains the community is correct that she made mistakes, plagiarized, etc. Hopefully they can reproduce the results and straighten things out -- would be a shame to lose the science over any politics that might be in play here.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

Outright PLAGIARISM and 'UNNATURAL' PHOTOS---knowing all the way that you are not going to get away with it---makes publication in Nature possible, which creates a nationwide frenzy, which, when combined with a news of a PATENT APPLIED---knowing all the way that you are not going to have it patented because of PLAGIARISM as well as 'UNNATURAL' PHOTOS--- jacks up certain stock prices sky high, which makes some people very, very rich.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

She lifted 76% of the papers.Nothing sloppy about that.It's just downright theft without acknowledgement.A no-no.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

So much white-knighting here. Take a step back and realize the harm Obokata did as co-lead researcher in this paper. No, the science behind it is not sound and isn't working in any lab in Europe or NA. I for one wished it was. The repercussions were huge for every field in human biology and you also had the uplifting story of a successful, young, feminine researcher (in a male dominated environment).

But no, as it's clear now she faked several pieces of important data and images. I hope the hammer comes down on her and everyone else involved regardless of her previous media exposure. Come to think of it, my bet is she'll reappear on TV as a "tarento" sooner or later.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

So much white-knighting here.

If she did in fact commit scientific fraud and plagiarism, then yes what she did was very very wrong . But she didn't do it alone. It would not have been possible.

Anyway, my main argument is with the media here in Japan. The way they build 'em up and tear 'em down, like wolves on the hunt. It's heartbreaking to watch, sometimes.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Couple of good comments here. If this young researcher has committed fraud, then she has put herself under the bus without being pushed. Moreover, on the issue of who knew what and when, it is interesting to note that Wakayama (the real heavy hitter in terms of international reputation) was the first to call for the articles to be withdrawn. Again, the comments he offered to the UC Davis blog are interesting.

Agree with the posts about the role of media. NHK in particular needs to hang its head in shame. Enough coverage was also not given to the fact that Prof. Yamanaka (Nobel Laureate) early on called the whole STAP premise into question.

Finally, with regard to the Japanese academic culture, while agreeing with Geller, and also I recognise that down at Hongo TAFE and other locations there are lots of world class researchers in many fields. At the same time, however, RIKEN needs to pick up its game.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Wonder how many more apologies we'll be seeing this year!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The net result is that far from being a rock star in the scientific community here in Japan, she is going to be thrown under a bus for the greater good (and rightly so). Moreover, the people in charge of her who let things get out of hand are also for the high jump

Hear hear. She's the lead author, she can be thrown under the bus.

To put it simply, it seems that Obokata was oversold as something she isn't and RIKEN stuffed up as well.

This is the other way round though. RIKEN suck and so do Nature. The Japanese press only took held of this after it was published. It's not really their job to verify scientific findings or make sure process has been followed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It would have been too good to have a good-looking AND reliable female scientist.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"RIKEN suck and so do Nature."

Nature originally rejected her research and was quite critical about it, as I recall. What made it reconsider? Was it under pressure ?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just have HER replicate the procedure and results herself, with an international team of scientists observing, and let's see if she can put her money where her mouth is - shouldn't take more than 30 minutes, right?

Also, for a paper and claim of the magnitude it was, Riken officials should have done their utmost to ensure every word and image of the paper was sound - i.e., they should go down with Ms. Obokata.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have to get Obokata starring in my movie which also stars Samuragochi and Aso as the two major, yet charismatic villains.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Nature originally rejected her research and was quite critical about it, as I recall

From the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Blog (link above): More seriously, Nature has some heavy-duty explaining to do. An earlier version of the Obokata et al. paper was rejected, but then the problem-beset version published in late January was finally accepted. I'd like to see Nature, while protecting the identity of the referees, disclose (on their website) all of the editorial correspondence (redacted appropriately) and every version of the submitted papers, so we can all judge whether or not the decision by Nature to accept the papers was appropriate based on the information available to them at the time.

Also, for a paper and claim of the magnitude it was, Riken officials should have done their utmost to ensure every word and image of the paper was sound - i.e., they should go down with Ms. Obokata.

Exactly. The Nobel-prize winning president of RIKEN also should have read it. Off with his head.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Peer review, scientific method, reproducibility of experiments, etc. were meant to uncover fraud or sloppy methodology. This episode proves that the system works.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

You have a photo of a three-year old me---a sniveling urchin, together with a photo of Bill Gates, wrap them up in some fantastic pieces of super English written by NIH, submit it to NATURE, telling NATURE you have, somehow, turned the URCHIN into founder of Microsoft, NATURE is going to believe you, and put you in NATURE.

Those photos are "natural"? or "unnatural"? That's you problem, not NATURE's..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There will always be problems with government paid for science when the politicians require scientific support for their already decided power grabs. Hard to beat the outright fakery here, but even the now popular "survey says" science to support political plans is full of potential for abuse. Asking those who depend on you for funding to support your political plans with scientific "voting" leads to entirely predictable results not requiring research to prove.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"She lifted 76% of the papers. Nothing sloppy about that. It's just downright theft without acknowledgement. A no-no."

SELF CLEANSING makes you different from dictator countries.

You will drop yourself into the rank of these countries, if you go on using "sloppy management of papers somehow causes one to commit mistakes such as these" kind of romanticizing ugly deeds.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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