lambda comments

Posted in: Asian parents underwrite weak education spending: OECD See in context

Here's an article that gives some perspective on the situation (in Korea): http://www.koreabang.com/2014/stories/teaching-ahead-of-the-curriculum-banned-in-korean-schools.html

On average, students learn material 4 years and 2 months ahead of their grade level.

How can anyone afford not going to private institutions when this is the prevailing situation?

I would further argue that the extra 4 years of education does not show. I recently read the book "Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?" by Pasi Sahlberg and he demostrated that the students in Finland spend less time in school than is the OECD average, yet in the OECD conducted PISA study the country has for a decade been placed among the top performing nations. As an anecdotal piece of evidence, I have not noticed that Korean or Japanese students (no matter which university) were any better than the students elsewhere.

The prominence of private schools is exacerbated by the fact that the cultures of East Asia seem way too focused on numbers and rankings. There is no way to measure who the next Richard Feynman is (who, incidentally, had a high IQ, but not Mensa-level). Any measures will anyway be gamed: the aftermath of Michelle Rhee's term in Washington DC has been filled with accusations of systematic cheating.

It is also worth remembering that in East Asia alma mater matters, possibly more so than anywhere else in the world. If you're a graduate of the University of Tokyo you'll basically be able to land any job you like within the confines of this island, nevermind your major.

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Posted in: Disgraced Japan stem cell scientist dead in apparent suicide See in context

I don't think you understand how discussions work. You made a claim so it is up to you to offer evidence to back it up when it is challenged.

I was asking which part you disagreed with. Why must you constantly come back with these personal attacks? These are the hallmarks of antisocial behaviour. Maybe one more piece of anecdotal evidence: an academic falling somewhere rather high up in the autism spectrum?

If you actually knew anything about academic work you'd know that more than 57% of papers are written by two or more authors, this means that most academics work regularly in groups out of choice, and this suggests that they are not introverts by nature. If you had ever been to an academic conference you'd realise how ridiculous your proposition was.

57% would mean that 43% of the papers are actually single-authored? This is a HUGE number given the way academia works with funding and all (I guess students write most academic papers, and their advisors get coauthorship). In life in general one is often forced to work with others to do anything useful, and measuring the fact in terms of authorship tells nothing of one's personality.

I've been an invited speaker to several academic conferences, and taken part in even more; I know what I'm talking about when I say that according to my experience scientists are more introverted and less socially capable than the average crowd. But this is probably obvious if you think about the kinds of personalities (on average) that went on to grad school to get a PhD. Again you suggest as if you could not understand the nature of academia unless you were a part of it. Why do you think you can understand journalism not being one?

Nonsense. I don't know what tabloid article you got this from, but it simply isn't true.

Wikipedia (on "extraversion and introversion") has more than half a dozen of references to scientific studies where it has been found that extroverts are happier and more positively affect than introverts.

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Posted in: Disgraced Japan stem cell scientist dead in apparent suicide See in context

@Frungy

Yes, these are broad generalizations, one might even characterise them as broad to the point of being completely and utterly untrue. Labeling all academics as introverts who are borderline autistic and less able to handle stress is easily one of the most misguided posts I've ever seen. Even making this ridiculous assertion renders your post invalid.

When I say "stereotypically academics are introverts", this does not mean that I am suggesting that all academics are this way, but that there is a correlation. To dissect my post, I made two clear statements (and asked for references to any academic studies proving or disproving my claims):

There is a correlation between being an academic and being an introvert. Being an introvert correlates with being less happy and less able to handle stress.

Which do you disagree with and why? I believe from anecdotal evidence alone that most would tend to agree, but again I welcome any scientific study to the subject.

I quite explicitly wrote that these are generalizations about academia for obviously no statistical correlation, no matter how strong, can ever indicate that the individual researcher, such as Sasai, might have been an introvert or more prone to depression than the average person. You use generalizations to back up your statements, making your opposition to mine (even when I clearly stated them as such), most perplexing.

For example you say that in academia reputation works in such mysterious ways that a journalist would not be able to understand it. This is false: There are plenty of defamed scientists that have continued on with their careers. Most recently Jens Förster has fought a very public battle, and was awarded a new professorship some two months ago, even when a panel found him directly at fault for fabricating data. Note that prior to his suicide Sasai's name was not to any great extent picked up by the international media (even the suicide did not make front page in most newspapers), making his public image very comparable to that of Förster's (except that Sasai himself has, to my knowledge, not been directly implicated in forgery). A fake paper or two does not end one's academic career, and most definitely not when you are not found to be the one faking the data but merely mislead by a collaborator (or do you suppose Vacanti's career is now over?).

What I am saying is that stress is stress, reputation is reputation, no matter what your profession. Both get built on as you rise through the ranks, and Sasai was indeed quite high up. As such, his mishaps might be compared to those of a CEO whose company fudges up an important and a very public deal (what does a CEO have, after all, except his reputation?). That Sasai chose death rather than life is sad, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the man was an academic: You don't get magical stress multipliers just from having a "Dr." or "Prof." in front of your name. I want to make, once again, clear that my generalized statements about academics as introverts can not be related to the individual case of Sasai. They were a response to, or an offshoot of, your general statements about stress in academia.

While I do disagree with bass4funk's characterization of Sasai as weak, his experience as a human being does give him enough experience to "judge" Sasai (or weigh in on his actions). One needs not be an academic to understand what the issues here are about.

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Posted in: Disgraced Japan stem cell scientist dead in apparent suicide See in context

While I can most certainly see where you, Frungy, are coming from, I think you are overstating your point. Academics have stress, sure, with grant applications and the "publish or perish" mentality of the modern institution of science, but belittling the pressures one must surely be under especially in a slowly dying profession, journalism, (as witnessed in the decline of many of the former top newspapers) eats away at the message you are trying to get across.

I'd say academia is quite relaxed compared to many other professions where similar Cravath's up or out is used, and that many industry jobs are very much comparable in terms of stress to what you might experience as a scientist (especially if you compare senior positions, such as the one which Sasai held, to a similar position outside academia). I might also argue that stereotypically academics are introverts (or even have borderline autism/Asperger's), and I would imagine them to be less able to handle the pressure put on them than the average person (there must be studies about the subject; if you find any, I'd be very happy to see them). These are of course broad generalizations, and one should not use the single case of Sasai to extrapolate to the entire field (surely proportionally more salarymen kill themselves than academics, anyway, if you were to use this as a meter of stress/pressure).

What bass4funk is essentially saying is that no matter how much pressure you are under (be it for academic reasons or otherwise), you should never quit life: Your reputation, job, career, none of them are things worth dying for. I'd say that I'd have to agree. You are of course free to decide for yourself, as there is no correct answer. I would not judge Sasai as weak, but merely as someone with a different set of priorities and values which also mirror those of his cultural background (perhaps his decisions were also affected by mental issues, as mentioned by other commentators).

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Posted in: Disgraced Japan stem cell scientist dead in apparent suicide See in context

There was a program on NHK Sunday night.

I did not know this. Sounds quite interesting. Might you have a link or reference of some sort to the description of said programme? Is this what you are referring to: http://www.nhk.or.jp/special/detail/2014/0727/ (from Sunday a week ago)

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Posted in: Disgraced Japan stem cell scientist dead in apparent suicide See in context

death by media

This is not death by media. The media should have been more aggressive, if anything: Many commentators on JT were accusing the senior staff of Riken for pushing Obokata under the bus (often even going as far as to claim that this was because Obokata was a young woman) and not taking responsibility for their role in the mess. From what I remember (please do correct me if I am wrong), this was not a story particularly strongly pursued by any mainstream media.

Sasai was clearly a successful scientist with a past of solid academic papers and contributions to science (and thanks to these, I would not characterize him as "disgraced"), which has me left wondering: Why, and why now? He'd handled the biggest media storms already. I do not know what the repercussions for him were for his involvement in the matter (STAP), maybe his job was threatened, but I will never understand why one would go to such lengths as killing oneself.

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Posted in: Obokata to retract one stem cell paper See in context

No, she retracted her letter (non-peer reviewed) to Nature, not the actual article (peer reviewed).

No, a Letter is a type of peer-reviewed publication reserved for the kind of science that is so important that it should be rapidly processed.

Most journals publish several different kind of pieces, Letters (sometimes called Communications) are the most prestigious and have a strict page limit to allow for quick refereeing, Articles (Papers) are normal full length writeups, Reviews (often invited) are reviews of the field or of one's own work with new data rarely presented (although, sometimes also with new data), Comments and Replies (Letters to the Editor) for pointing out flaws in recent publications, and Errata (Corrections) for correcting minor flaws (often typos made in print). There are many others as well, of course, like opinion pieces that might not be peer reviewed. Every type of submission I wrote about above, however, with the exception of Errata, typically go through peer review.

For the types of submissions to Nature proper (as opposed to sister journals like Nature Materials), see http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/gta/index.html. For even more detail see http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/peer_review.html, where Letters are clearly indicated as peer-reviewed material.

In a sense, then, Obokata is retracting the more prestigious of the publications, although to publish in Nature, this distinction between a Letter and an Article hardly matters. It is pointed out here http://www.ipscell.com/2014/05/analysis-why-obokata-oks-retraction-of-nature-stap-cell-letter-but-not-article/ that it should have in fact been the Article that should be retracted, not the Letter. In the comments someone pointed out that this might have to do with patent pending legalities.

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Posted in: Institute rejects stem cell research scientist's appeal See in context

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).

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Posted in: Institute rejects stem cell research scientist's appeal See in context

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.

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Posted in: Institute rejects stem cell research scientist's appeal See in context

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.)

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Posted in: Institute rejects stem cell research scientist's appeal See in context

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.

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Posted in: BABYMETAL invasion of the West marches on See in context

As a long time metal music fan, I am happy to see BABYMETAL gaining some recognition. Manufactured and fake, yes, but they, and their producers, do have a new take on music. Taking metal to the bubble pop direction makes it accessible to people who are not familiar with the genre, as is so common in Japan, and I think the band is entertaining and does what they do well.

The carrying force behind AKB (as some made the comparison) is a new approach to the otaku culture, in that they provide so many idols to worship that everyone can find someone to their tastes. AKB also does the daily concert thing so that the fans can get a chance to rather regularly meet the band members. BABYMETAL is clearly different and the invention here is, at least to me, mainly in the field of music rather than display and marketing.

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Posted in: Obokata apologizes for mistakes but says her conclusions were accurate See in context

I do not think she fabricated the results. Why? Because I do not think someone with a PhD from Waseda would be so naive as to fake a method that is supposedly easy to replicate in one of the leading journals on a subject that many would be eager to build up on. Then again, she did not seem to know that any image manipulation in cell biology nowadays will become quickly apparent if not by the journal's own screening, then by researchers posting on PubPeer etc.

I think it is possible that she somehow read too much into the data, and that what she got is in fact not what she claims, or thinks, she got. This, or she did a poor job explaining exactly how the cells were made. The latter is obviously the more positive case, and I am sure that everyone is hoping that this is indeed what happened. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the way she claims she made the STAP cells does not infact result in STAP cells. About a dozen independent labs have tried replicating the results, and failed.

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Posted in: Obokata apologizes for mistakes but says her conclusions were accurate See in context

@Frungy:"Do you have any idea how glaringly obvious the flaws in her paper were? From the first time I read it I could see that there was some stuff in it that just didn't add up (go back and you'll find my comments from when this issue first started and I raised questions about the research). Of course Nature's reviewers saw the errors... except that they didn't care, they only thing they cared about was that she had discovered a way to make STAP cells. Why? Because in science results matter and a little sloppy note-taking can be excused."

To answer you question, no I don't, and I think I have been very clear about the fact that I am not an expert in this field. However, this case has taken dimensions far beyond some technical details, and analyzing research ethics is by no means the domain of cell biologists alone.

Referees should point out even the smaller problems in a manuscript and then it lies with the editor to decide whether something should be done to address them. Due to the way peers reviewers are picked, it is however entirely possible that mistakes that are obvious to you might not have been picked up by the referees. Ultimately, you seem to be supportive of my main point that it is not the job of the reviewers to replicate the results, but rather look at their feasibility.

"Once again you display your complete lack of knowledge of the contents of the paper. Obokata's method is fast and cheap. This is precisely its appeal. If the other researchers didn't take the time to replicate the results then it was pure and utter laziness, not expense or large amounts of time."

"... your friends lack any integrity at all. What they deserve is a polite mention at the end of the paper, not co-authorship.

Also, senior researchers should RESEARCH. Administrators administer. If nobel prize winning researchers are shuffling budget requests for pencils then there is something seriously wrong with the institute"

Yes, I too think that my friends should have taken an acknowledgement instead of a coauthorship in the cases I described, but science is a job, after all, and one where one often counts the number of publications and as such I do understand why they would take coauthorship if so offered (I have never been so lucky, and have even missed out on some acknowledgements when I think I deserved them). In my friend's defence, while for him it took maybe 30 minutes to fit the curves with difficult analytical expressions, he probably sped up the research by several days. My examples were quite extreme, but if my friend had developed a new way of analysis instead of the simple curve fitting that he did, his scientific contribution would have been obvious, but he still would not have comprehended what the paper was about. I should mention that the people worked in the same scientific field (much more restricted and narrow than for example stem cells), but the materials they worked on were different, so much so that they didn't and couldn't follow each others' work. As you criticize taking authorship for curve fitting, one could easily argue that most labwork is supportive in nature, not directly contributing to the actual science. In the same vein, almost no papers warrant five authors or more. A lot of authorship has to do more with politics and creating incentives rather than who truly is responsible. I do not think there is anything wrong with this per se, it is a convention that everybody knows, and as such it means that not all authors are equal or should be required to understand the whole paper and much less to conduct all the experiments covered in the paper themselves.

As for senior researchers working, I wholly agree that their talent is wasted doing administrative tasks they often are not even good at. Yet, how many professors/lab heads do you know that actually spend time doing hands on research? Maybe a couple, but they are a rare breed (especially so when they have a lab of 30 people or so to manage funding and grants for). My point is that nobody expects the senior authors to know what exactly goes on in the wetworks, nor does anybody think that they would personally conduct a replication of collaborators. Next time you go to a conference and hear someone's speech, ask them about the specifics, or problems only someone who works the floor would know about, and I guarantee that most will not be able to counter. I know people (professors) with over a thousand publications, some nominated for the Nobel prize. That's bullshit and everybody knows it, and their contribution might often be even less than my friend's who fitted some curves. Strictly speaking, the lab heads should often get no more recognition for the research than a CEO gets his name on a patent, but so it goes.

"But you must PROVE the researcher fabricated the data. If Obokata can get back in the lab and replicate her results then it is everyone else who should be grovelling on their knees before her begging for forgiveness. Thus far there has been no evidence she fabricated anything. She mixed up some pictures, highlighted some spots on pictures for clarity and cut and pasted a routine lab procedure rather than trying to find some interesting new way to write it, and was sloppy in her note-taking. Prove she fabricated the data then I'll give you the time of day. Until then you're someone who hasn't even done Obokata the courtesy of reading her paper but believes they know enough to call her a liar an plagiarist."

She is a plagiarist, beyond doubt, for lifting dozens of pages without proper reference in her PhD thesis. Unlike what you say, I have been quite careful not to condemn her, saying that for the plagiarism she might have had valid, or at least understandable, reasons (although it still is unprofessional). The images in her paper were manipulated, apparently to enhance them. Again, very sloppy and something that does eat away on her credibility, but not necessarily anything done with bad intent. Furthermore, I have been very clear about the fact that I cannot evaluate the science for I am no expert, but have instead pointed out some ethical implications (one of my main concerns has been what ebisen wrote above). To me the case here represents just the most recent data point in the recent discussion about what is wrong with science (a recurring topic also in the mainstream media; even The Economist had this theme on their cover some months back).

What I have been saying (in the comment section of another piece of news, as you well know) is that her results have not been replicated by anyone despite numerous attempts, and that some respected researchers have even come out saying that they do not believe that STAP cells as described by Obokata exist. There is no way one can really show beyond any doubt that she fabricated the data. It can always have been due to something she accidentally left out of the records, something that maybe even she didn't realize she was doing. Only the replication attempts can give any indication of the truth, and whether the cells exist, and currently the data is stacked against her. I suppose I do agree with you in that she should be let into the lab to try replicating the data herself. Of course it would be great for her, and in the long run perhaps for the rest of us as well, if she does manage to pull it off.

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Posted in: Obokata apologizes for mistakes but says her conclusions were accurate See in context

@MeanRingp: "It certainly is the duty of peer reviewers to catch what was wrong (albeit before the article is published) and it should certainly be the duty of scientists to replicate the results. Results have got to be replicable. That's what the system of discovery through science is all about. And if you don't see that as a problem, perhaps you would like to buy a certain recipe I have for turning lead into gold. It worked for me, so... how about I give it to you for a lump sum of 2 billion dollars?"

I never go and replicate the results of papers I review. I often have a week or two to respond and a mere replication would often take months and I would also have to build custom tools to do so. Nobody pays me for doing this (worse, I would spend money using my own resources) nor would my name appear anywhere should I find conflicting results, of course. Furthermore, while doing this I would be distracted from my own research. Nature, in particular, I believe runs with "high priority" review times, i.e. short ones. Not that I have ever been a referee for Nature (although other top journals, yes). It is for peer reviewers, from the clues given in the manuscript, to assess whether the study is feasible/valid and of high impact and quality, if the authors seem knowledgeable, and the presentation understandable.

As you pointed out, this all sounds like it is easy to get papers accepted to the scientific literature. It is. For example Jan Hendrik Schon, often called the biggest fraudster in science, managed to publish some 10 papers in both Nature and Science plus others in other high impact journals. If you follow RetractionWatch.com as I suggested, you'll find many many more contemporary examples as well (for example Shigeaki Kato at University of Tokyo). Some of this has only later been proved as fraud much after the fact when people in the field have learned of the tools of digital image forensics, for example.

Trust is a feature of science, and yes as more and more people have entered the field from countries near and far, it has become more of a problem. Of discrimination as well, for I have a friend who said that he finds it difficult to believe any of the claims from Chinese groups without foreign affiliations (for good reason, as in his field there have been many incidents of grandiose claims ending up as dead ends, or so he said). In science nobody gets paid two billion (or the equivalent, the Nobel prize) upfront. What scientists instead get is in a way immediate recognition for having a feasible way to turn lead into gold (like Obokata was heralded by the media as the next superstar of Japanese science), and they hope that in ten years time as other work cites theirs and thus its relevance has been showed, they get the prize. It often does not pay to fake data on game changing results others might want to replicate, for you won't be getting the citations in the long run (and worse, if you end up losing your reputation and are no longer trustworthy, science has no place for you).

There seems to be a max limit on post length, so I'l answer to Frungy later (also two consequtive posts are not allowed, so someone needs to post in between).

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Posted in: Obokata apologizes for mistakes but says her conclusions were accurate See in context

I do think that she should be given a second chance to continue her research work after being reprimanded for her misconducts.

In principle this is of course the best way to conduct things, for it is a terrible waste to have someone trained as a PhD and then making them work at Royal Host. Having said this, science is all about trust. I do not believe it was the duty of the Nature peer reviewers to catch all that was wrong with the paper, certainly it is not their duty to replicate the results, although if they had felt that the protocols were not clear, they should have voiced these concerns. It could also be argued that Nature should have had a policy of checking all images for manipulation, like some other but not all major journals in cell biology, but they might have (monetary) reasons not to do this.

Much in the same way, Obokata as the corresponding and lead author of the paper was likely the one to do most of the actual experiments. The others' scientific contribution might have been in suggesting the type of experiments, or helping in writing the paper, for example. If Obokata produced feasible data and her protocol made sense, there was no reason why all the other authors of the study would absolutely have to have replicated these potentially costly experiments themselves. Senior researchers often don't bother themselves with actual labwork, anyway, but prefer their roles as administrators and enablers of science. I have several friends who have gotten their names on papers for helping to write routines that fit data to curves, something that took them an hour tops, and yet others that have translated papers to English and got themselves a co-authorship for doing so. While one can argue that they did provide scientific input (and one could also argue that their contribution is not large enough to warrant authorship), it is not reasonable to expect that these people would actually understand what is being written in the paper.

It is very easy to fabricate claims in science because one assumes that others are presenting their data in good faith. Now one always worries about other researchers' competence and understanding, but rarely about whether they have directly altered their data. Now because it is so easy to make false claims and so difficult to get caught, the punishment for getting caught should be a strong deterrent. Most countries ban a researcher found to have fabricated data from applying for governmental grants for a number of years, effectively ending their careers. Often employments are also terminated. Some people have managed careers out of faking research, http://retractionwatch.com, and were recently caught only after their deaths, for they never tried for the high impact Nature papers.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Posted in: Obokata to leave hospital to fight data fabrication claims See in context

20 pages out of thousands ?

I am not sure if you have read many PhD theses or if in your field they do stuff differently, but they normally rack up between 50 and 300 pages, depending on the field and format. Obokata's stands at 108 pages. I, however, wholly agree with you in that the reasons for copying text need not be sinister. I can imagine she never thought anyone would actually read the thesis. Now in social sciences (for example) this might sound surprising, but in the natural sciences, it is customary to publish 3 - 10 papers in peer reviewed journals as a part of your PhD, and the thesis just serves a writeup/introduction to these (quite often the papers themselves are actually slapped to the end as an appendix). The data is often presented better, without extra introductory comments, in the papers, which are often also more readily available than the thesis. I am sure that if you started going through different PhD theses to see if they had obtained the copyright permissions to use the images they do in the background/introductory segments, you would find violations left and right. For some reason people tend to know it is illegal to share movies online without permission, but are not aware that the very same laws apply to copyrighted photographs and images.

What is more worrying is that Obokata has in several of her papers and patents lifted text out of others' work: http://stapcell.blogspot.jp/. This again is not likely done with bad intent, I am guessing it is a work of someone whose command of English is not very good, but it is very much unprofessional. Papers have been retracted for similar breaches before, so it is unfair to say that Obokata has been singled out by the global scientific community. Naturally the media has been more frenzied than usual, but the claims in the paper were quite grand and were initially given so much hype in the media much thanks to the fact that Obokata is a pretty Japanese woman (at least in Japan the media played this normal housewife theme a lot).

As for Obokata being targeted by RIKEN in internal power politics, I'd say that this is not entirely unlikely. Note that it is quite surprising that in a country where age plays a huge role in determining one's place at work and in society, Obokata at 30 yrs old has somehow managed the status of team leader at RIKEN. I went through some 10 random labs from the RIKEN directory, and the fastest of them had become a team leader 5 years after his PhD. Now for her defence I might say that stem cells are a hot field right now, so maybe they had a lot of funds to throw at the direction of anyone competent. But at the same time I would not be surprised if she had connections to get her where she is and now someone is taking revenge or whatever. Speculating on the specifics is, however, not fruitful. In any case, I do not think this has to do anything with the fact that Obokata is a woman per se.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

Read the blog, there is absolutely no way that "Yoshiyuki Seki" and "Yoshiyuki" are different people. "Yoshiyuki" is answering to queries directed at "Yoshiyuki Seki" with such intimate knowledge that only "Yoshiyuki Seki" could possibly possess it. It's not like there are two Yoshiyukis talking about two different trials, but one and the same.

Having programmed internet applications for some 15 years now (for leisure, never professionally), I can tell you that -- turning into – is expected behaviour on (modern) web sites. Also, being quite the typography buff that I am, I assure you that – is an en dash, not the Japanese ー, which clearly looks different in every possible way and is far from the others (en&em) in the Unicode table. Finally, WordPress, the popular blogging platform (which the iPS cell blog is using) automatically converts -- into a long dash (I checked), so it is quite obvious that the blog owner wrote --, a separator of names. I assumed that the platform Japantoday is using would also work as expected and didn't bother to click "Preview", for even without the conversion it should be obvious to everyone what was meant. As you have clearly not have been using the internet for too long, I am not even going to go into why "--" is usually actually better than "–" on simple discussion forums, and why you might expect the latter to render completely wrong.

You put too much focus on appearances instead of the content. The green light on the iPS blog means nothing when on the very same page the results are refuted. Whether I write the long dash as -- or – should not matter, the meaning "a long dash" should be immediately obvious from the context and the usual behaviour of computers.

As for cell research, again, I claim no expertise. I have not been picking and choosing facts, in fact the tobacco stem cells you wrote about was why I initially joined in the discussion. If it is well known that external stress should create STAP-like cells, the ethical implications of Obokata et al.'s sloppy research are even graver. This I tried to point out with the Jan-Hendrik Schon example in my first post here. I am not saying that external stresses cannot convert cells to stem cells. I am saying that the evidence has it that the protocol of Obokata et al. is not the way to do this. This is to say that STAP cells, as defined by the protocol, do not exist, but STAP-like cells of course might.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

Yoshiyuki and Yoshiyuki Seki are the same person (of Kwansei Gakuin University). In the comments (of the blog) callname "Yoshiyuki Seki" starts a thread reporting on his experiments. Other people ask for details and the person who answers is called simply "Yoshiyuki". It is clear that these are the one and same person, but that simply he could not be bothered to write his whole name again and again. Having established this, let's turn to the last piece, Paul–Yoshiyuki. Is the supposed Paul–Yoshiyuki (who does not exists according to Google) the same Yoshiyuki, i.e. Yoshiyuki Seki? He is, for it is indeed "Yoshiyuki" who in the comments section writes about the autofluorescence results, which exactly matches the interpretation that Paul wrote and update on Yoshiyuki's progress.

I did not realize that you had not read a book before, or written large portions of text. Well, this must come as a surprise: there are different types of dashes. Nobody separates two names with two short dashes, but rather with one long one. Let me elaborate. Indeed it is true that the dash from Paul–Yoshiyuki "–" is singular, but so is "--" in any text editor for in fact the latter becomes the former (in Word/LibreOffice/LaTeX). Look up "em dash" on Google if you don't believe me (more specifically what Paul–Yoshiyuki contains is an "en dash", LaTeX for example has this as -- and the other long one, the em dash, as --- if I recall correctly. The usage of these dashes is of course different). I did not think using "--" in place of a clumsy copypaste or Alt-code could possibly be misunderstood by anyone.

There might have been two experiments, I'll give you that much for I am not an expert. However, if you follow the comments section of the blog, you'll see that the four day results too, are due to autofluorescence, and thus a failure.

If you Google Prof. Lee's attempts, you'll see that a few days ago the press heralded him as having succeeded in replicating STAP cells. This turned out to be a bit too soon, and upon further analysis, Lee found that the experiments had in fact failed, and is now of the opinion that STAP cells do not exist. Surely had Yoshiyuki, Yoshiyuki Seki, or Paul-Yoshiyuki succeeded, these would too have been reported by the media (even though this particular researcher is not completely independent) and mentioned in conjunction with the news of Lee's success.

I don't think I can make this any clearer: You are plain wrong. Instead of even trying to provide evidence of a successful replication (which surely would reported by other sources than just one blog), you keep making more and more complicated and elaborate excuses.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

Ok, so here's what we agree on. There is a contributor called Yoshiyuki Seki. The blog is run by Paul Knoepfler. That's about it I suppose.

Are you seriously suggesting that the sentence: "Note from Paul–Yoshiyuki now reports this green signal is determined to be autofluorescence." is referring to a person called Paul-Yoshiyuki, somebody not mentioned anywhere else on the site (or internet it would seem, at least not in connection with any kind of cells according to my Google-fu)? Do you seriously suppose that my scenario of Paul, the blog runner, commenting on Yoshiyuki's results is not more realistic?

Note also the long dashed line, not normally used with names per se, but rather as a separator of names, for example Lennard-Jones is one person, but Black--Scholes are two. You said that the case was clarified in the comments section and indeed it was; there "Yoshiyuki" writes in a thread that "Yoshiyuki Seki" started: "Jeanne: Thank you for your advise. Unfortunately, because I can detect Red channel, this signal is autofluorescence. I will retry. Thanks". I should also add that in the comments it was pointed out that Yoshiyuki Seki might not be an entirely 3rd party researcher, as he shares some affiliations with some of the authors of the STAP papers.

I am not saying that STAP cells are not real, I claim no expertise. What I am saying is that there are no successful replications despite a lot of effort put into it by scientists working in the field. In fact, some have come out clearly stating that they do not believe that the cells exist (I am of course referring to Prof. Lee). Your argumentation wholly rests on STAPs having been replicated by others, which is untrue.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

This is the green result:

Yoshiyuki Seki on 2/13/14 wrote:

We used mouse embryonic fibroblast derived from Nanog-EGFP Tg. Now we are performing resuspended culture in B27 + LIF or serum + LIF for 4 days. In B27 + LIF medium, we can’t detect GFP-positive, while we can detect weak-GFP positive cells in serum + LIF. However, we observe many dead cells in GFP-positive clump. Therefore it might be difficult to expand clump of GFP positive cells in adherence culture.

And if you READ stuff and not blindly go with colors, you would see that:

Update from Yoshiyuki on 2/13/14. Suspension culture (100,000 cells/ml) pH5.7, incubation time 25 min. See images for various conditions below. Note from Paul–Yoshiyuki now reports this green signal is determined to be autofluorescence. Bummer.

There are no successful replications and your constant ad hominem attacks are not making your case any more compelling either.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

The one green result (i.e. promising, not successful) turned red upon further analysis as noted on the website. As for the mixed bag, I have not enough expertise to say whether it is even close to a partial success, and I'll be the first to admit this. I know therefore of no other groups that have managed to replicate the results. From what I remember one coauthor already called for retraction, indicating that he too has grave concerns.

You are resting your whole case on the assumption that someone else has replicated the results. I have seen no claims by anyone that they have done so, quite the contrary. Surely the aforementioned Prof. Lee would have stated that he believed in STAP cells if someone else had confirmed the results, and thus settled on merely criticizing the procedure of Obokata et al. instead of calling the hunt for the cells a waste of resources.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

No claim that they "ought to exist", that's a given. They've replicated her experiment with a few minor tweaks and they DO exist.

I am not sure if you have vested interest in this or what, but even from an outsider's perspective, your claim is simply not true and the issue is still controversial. Science magazine (among others) reported on the liveblogging attempt by the group of Prof. Lee from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, http://www.researchgate.net/publication/259984904_Stimulus-triggered_fate_conversion_of_somatic_cells_into_pluripotency/reviews/103#532fa277d5a3f2f4188b4570.

This just ended with Lee commenting "Personally, I don’t think STAP cells exist and it will be a waste of manpower and research funding to carry on with this experiment any further".

Furthermore, http://www.ipscell.com/stap-new-data/ reports ten failures and one mixed result by independent groups.

Whatever the case may be, it is still worrying that you'd get published (or patented) for reporting that a method works when it is actually a variant that works and you never understood this. Accidents lead to scientific discoveries for they motivate research and analyses along some previously untread paths. What was done by Obokata et al. seems sloppy science at best, and a far cry from a rigorous analysis. This was my main point in the post above (which you did not comment on) and is why Obokata should be reprimanded regardless of whether STAP cells (by some modification in the procedure) exist or not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Posted in: RIKEN says stem cell research was falsified See in context

Obokata didn't plagiarize others' work in her 2011 PhD thesis I wish to point out that this is not entirely true, and she seems to have a history of plagiarism http://stapcell.blogspot.jp/ (see the posts on plagiarism). Now maybe her command of English is not that good and she simply copypasted passages fitting her research and changed some of the details. I'm not saying there is necessarily something sinister at play here or that the reason is something other than her being a bit naive, but am pointing out that she has indeed committed this particular no-no in science more than once.

Now, Frungy, as for your claim that STAP cells ought to exist. I am no medical researcher, but I indeed thought that this might be the case, that she accidentally stumbled on something cool, but as it was an accident, did not report all the steps properly. Well in physics (my background) we have/had Jan Hendrik Schon, who has often been called the biggest fraud in science, having had 8 papers from Science and 7 from Nature retracted, among others. What he did was to come up with a way to produce molecular transistors. Everyone knew that this should in principle be possible and the method he proposed seemed plausible. Indeed, there were theories predicting that if you made one, the measured curves should look like so and so. Turns out, he never built the damn things, he was just generating fake data to fit the theories. What he was hoping, I can only guess here, is that someone else would later fine tune his method and get it to work for real, while he gets the fame and the patents for being the "first" to do so. He also had some big name collaborators, which was the reason he really got to publish in Nature in the first place, but I won't go into this in more detail.

Anyway, the parallels with Obokata should be clear, and to me, this is why it is so worrying that Obokata's original procedure did not quite work out, especially so now that you pointed out that everyone knows about the potential effects of a hostile environment. And with the patents, there is an incentive other than want for fame, too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Posted in: Why do you think that passengers on board the missing Malaysian Airlines plane didn't make mobile phone calls when they realized something was wrong? Authorities say there were no phone calls, Twitter See in context

I don't think they have coverage in planes, especially if they are travelling over vast areas of ocean, where cell towers are nowhere close to be found. That said, about 10 years ago a plane went down in Greece (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helios_Airways_Flight_522) for they had wrong air pressurization settings, leading all passengers and crew to lose consciousness. The plane circled above Athens on autopilot for several hours, and finally plunged to the ground. Jets were actually scrambled and they saw a cabin attendant trying to operate the aircraft (he had been switching between several canisters of air and was able to survive longer). Without proper training of course he was not able to do a thing (he did have a pilot's licence and was hoping to become an airline pilot one day, but the complexity of the large commercial aircraft proved too much).

This is to say that there are ways of incapacitation, accidental or otherwise.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Posted in: 'Game-changing' Japan stem-cell study questioned See in context

I have huge problems with your seemingly asserting that this is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon. It is not.

Indeed it is not a uniquely Japanese problem, but working in the sciences and following the situation closely, I'd guess that it might be more prominent here. http://retractionwatch.com/ reports on retractions, like the name of the website indicates. Retractrions are scientific papers that passed peer review (Obokata's paper is in Nature and has passed a very rigorous peer review), but were later found to have grave errors, often intentional, and thus the publication was "cancelled" after-the-fact, i.e. retracted.

The most famous case is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sch%C3%B6n_scandal, see also the book "Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World", it reads like a thriller. A Japanese researcher (Yoshitaka Fujii) holds the questionable honour of having most papers retracted. One of the most famous current cases is that of Shigeaki Kato (I noticed two of his papers retracted last week from PNAS, another prestigious journal, but Univ. of Tokyo after their investigation recommended that over 40 papers be retracted, which basically means the dude's entire career is a fraud).

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Posted in: Why doesn't Japan have much of a start-up and venture capital culture? See in context

I, for one, think that Japan has one of the strongest start up cultures in the world: Just walk around in your neighborhood and you'll see small businesses in garages all around. Now, granted that these are not running servers and trying to be the next Google type of high-tech startups, but they do go to show that there are plenty of entrepreneurial people out there, and that there are no laws to encumber them, unlike in the notoriously bureaucratic France. The Japanese online startups are some of the most successful on the planet, especially so in mobile games, just look up any list of best-sellers. GungHo even bought the European company that had developed the Clash of Clans. No mean feat, as that had been branded by some media as the fastest growing game company. Ever. What is lacking is a global reach: Mixi never got big outside Japan, and indeed was limited to people having Japanese phones. On the other hand, Angry Birds is virtually unknown in Japan.

Japan has strong domestic markets, with a demand that is different from the global western demands, and thus while there are many successful Japanese startups out there, this remains unknown to the western public.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Posted in: Japan ranked 6th in quality of life for children See in context

Good for these Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, but when you have such a small population, on average 6 million people, with abundant natural resources, is it not easy to provide for your people and offer then a good quality of life? I'm not really sure what other countries can do to compete with this.

Many of the individual states in the United States are roughly of same size as the countries mentioned above and command large independent authority over their policies, particularly education, which I would expect is one of the biggest things affecting the life of children. Your criticism is therefore unfounded.

Aside from Norway, I'm not exactly sure what abundant natural resources you are referring to, especially if you compare them to some individual states of the US.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Posted in: No fun See in context

The signs have been all over Kansai for at least a year now, closing clubs left and right. As the law, 風営法, fuieihou, as it's called (nickname for the law, a shortened down word, like the language so often works), prohibits serving alcohol and dancing after 1 am (I believe this was the time), clubs either post a note prohibiting dancing and carry tables onto the dancefloor or close by 1 am. In the former case, people still dance, in the latter, the clubs are open longer than advertised. When discovered by the officials, the club is often forced to close,but typically reopenes under new management in a matter of months.

Japanese people often have the misconception that people use drugs at the clubs, and that's the reason why people go there in the first place. This is supported by japanese light media and entertainment, like movies and drama series.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Posted in: Kansai Electric projects Y125 bil loss See in context

From previous quarterly financial statements, you can see that KEPCO is making an operational loss, ie. the expenses of producing electricity are higher than are the profits. A year ago this time, KEPCO was still profitable (+Y20 bil). Anyway, KEPCO has Y500 bil worth of nuclear fuel in its reserves, and now is unable to use it.

This time a year ago, KEPCO had halved its nuclear production of energy (compared to the year before) and was producing 1.5 times as much power with fossil fuels. The current state is even more skewed towards the polluting type of power generation, which apparently is more expensive. Why, I don't exactly understand. Maybe it isn't subsidised or has taxes on it (pollution)? Or is there an increased demand (and an inelastic supply) for polluting the earth this year, as led by Germany's World War 3 (this time against the environment), which drives the prices up? It would indeed be nice if someone could clarify this point.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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