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RIKEN weighing retraction of stem cell paper

15 Comments
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

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RIKEN seems to be doing the backpedal on this now. Looking at various Japanese language sources, the knives are beginning to be sharpened, with young Obokata being placed under the microscope. The issues as I understand them at the moment are some suspicious photos (that might have been recycled from earlier work), a body of plagiarized material (which some blogs have already broken down word-for-word), and the replication issue (apparently there has been a lack of data forthcoming on how this has been done. Thus, other research facilities have not be able to very the results).

On top of this, Prof. Wakayama (a well-respected researcher internationally) has been making noises about abandoning ship. Then again, over on at least one blog (run by a UC Davis researcher) he has commented on the difficulty of reproducing the results. Quite rightly, he pointed out that after Dolly the Sheep appeared in Nature, it took a different set of researchers another 18 months before they could replicate the methods.

All in all, a sad state of affairs. Either RIKEN have jumped the gun on this one before verifying it as kosher, or they have tried to oversell this research (being gladly assisted by those idiots at NHK). Whatever the case, they need to get on top of this issue before collateral damage occurs (reputations destroyed, etc.).

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Regarding general ethics this is a breakdown from her PhD from Waseda. Only the colored parts are different, everything else is copy and paste. There are now issues with not only this paper but her PhD to start with.

http://altair.dbcls.jp/difff/dev/obokata_copypaste.html

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@Sue Jones

Wow!!! Thanks for that. Based on the link you attached, it seems she's toast. I actually had been focusing on Japanese language sources only. However, based on your link it seems that significant fraud has been carried out.

Cheers

Hongo

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Thanks for the informative input, Hongo and Sue!

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It's not looking good for Obokata or her advisors.

According to the Asahi newspaper:

"Obokata's dissertation was accepted by a committee made up of two professors at Waseda, a professor at Tokyo Women's Medical University and Harvard University professor Charles Vacanti. Obokata studied under Vacanti, who is a co-author of the Nature articles on STAP cells.

"It is a surprise that the thesis passed the dissertation committee," said Shigeaki Yamazaki, an Aichi Shukutoku University professor who is knowledgeable about research ethics. "The responsibility of the professors and the university is very heavy. Consideration should be taken for some action, including withdrawing the degree."

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Thanks Tessa. It seems that the knives are being sharpened as we speak. Things are still to develop, but sooner or later there is going to be a stampede for the exits.

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Very soon after all the media coverage of the publication in Nature, I noticed the housewares department at the local Itoyokado had put out some bright white kappogi aprons, an item I have never seen there before in over 30 years of shopping there. I must check to see if they have been removed!

In any case, regardless of the reasons or the details, it is sad that it has come to this. I hope that when it all gets sorted out there remains something of truth and use.

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Crikey. And, if she hadn't have published research making such extraordinary claims, then nobody might have bothered to investigate her research and her thesis so closely, which kinda makes you think.

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I agree with davestrousers. It would be absolutely ridiculous for her to think that she could publish Nobel qualifying research without her background and the research being checked out. Either there is an explanation for all this, or she is a complete fool who has destroyed her future in science

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Either there is an explanation for all this, or she is a complete fool who has destroyed her future in science.

Personally I'm still hoping there's some kind of explanation for all of this (I was rooting for her, dangit!), but if, as seems more likely, she has committed serious academic and scientific fraud, then who else was complicit in all this? She can't have done it all alone, after all. And yes, how on earth did she think she would get away with it?

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Why are Japanese and Korean stem cell researchers often caught out after a big announcement of a "breakthrough". Is there something in the water that makes them try to bs the world? So odd....

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@BBQ

So far nothing has been decided. If and when the articles in question are withdrawn and RIKEN holds a witch hunt, then I suppose your comment will be partially valid. Even then, however, it won't just be Japanese researchers who are in the frame. I reckon at least one chap at Harvard will also be airbrushing his resume. If things go pear-shaped, the only person to come out of this with his reputation intact will be Terry Wakayama out in Yamanashi.

Moreover, I assume that your mention of "Korean researchers" is a veiled reference to Hwang Woo-suk. At the same time, however, you might want modify your attitude to "Japanese researchers" in the field of stem cells. Does the name Shinya Yamanaka ring any bells? I believe he's a local.....

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@BBQ

I can assure you it's not a purely Japanese or Korean thing! It probably just seems this way if you live in this part of the world, because it gets a relatively high amount of coverage. But if you go to sites such as http://retractionwatch.com/ then you'll see that scientific papers come under a great deal of scrutiny all over the world, and it's actually kind of reassuring to know!

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they have tried to oversell this research (being gladly assisted by those idiots at NHK

NHK just took her to the cleaners and did a better job of breaking down the press conference held by RIKEN today then some of the commercial channels. All in all some 200 media people at the conference.

It's an embarassing mess and all involved deserve it. Obokata said (via the RIKEN brass) that she doesn't remember where the copied (or at least virtually identical) portion of text came from! What a researcher!

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Doesn't look good for the authors or reviews. It did review this before submission to Nature?http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2014/03/12/five-allegations-against-riken-stem-cell-researcher-in-japan/

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