Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Endocrinologist Shigeaki Kato resigns amidst University of Tokyo misconduct investigation

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Shigeaki Kato

Shigeaki Kato, an endocrinology researcher at the University of Tokyo who retracted a paper late last month, has resigned amidst an investigation into whether he committed misconduct, Japanese media outlets are reporting.

According to the reports, the university has been investigating Shigeaki Kato and his group, affiliated with the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, for scientific misconduct. The investigation was prompted by an outside whistleblower’s allegations in January about 24 of Kato’s papers. The whistleblower claimed that the papers manipulated and reused data improperly, and created a YouTube video to spread the word, as ScienceInsider reported earlier this year.

One of the 24 papers, which appeared in Cell in 2003, was retracted on March 29, as we reported then. The group also retracted two papers last year for duplication, and corrected a Nature paper because “[s]everal lanes of the [chromatin immunoprecipitation, or ChIP] analyses…were inadvertently duplicated or erroneously created during figure assembly.”

In the midst of the ongoing investigation, Kato resigned on March 31 for “personal reasons.” Despite his departure, the university says the investigation continues, and that it will consider disciplinary actions if Kato is found guilty of misconduct.

Our Japanese-speaking readers can find original news reports in Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nishinippon Shimbun, and NHK News. Thanks to Retraction Watch reader “japonica” for translations.

Written by Ivan Oransky

April 9th, 2012 at 10:48 am

  • Rafa April 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    In the meantime, I should say that it seems to me that the Abnormal Science Blog has been killed. The website is accessible, OK, but hasnt posted anything new for quite a while, neither answers emails.

    Would you know of any of this, Ivan?

    • vhedwig April 10, 2012 at 8:52 am

      Joerg (Abnormal Science) would probably not be offended if I were to inform here that his break from blogging in recent weeks has been only for matters of a personal nature, not due to any legal issues or being shut down by anyone. He is responding to emails when possible.

      • Rafa April 10, 2012 at 9:55 am

        Great! I was almost sure he was silenced by some crooks. Thanks!

  • Ressci Integrity April 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    this is worrying – same is true for the 11jigen (japanese blogger)…

  • amw April 10, 2012 at 12:11 am

    One important element of this is that the whole thing seems to have been triggered by a Nature Corrigendum published in October 2011 (see link in the main article above). That Corrigendum states: ‘Several lanes of the ChIP analyses in this Letter were inadvertently duplicated or erroneously created during figure assembly. We now provide corrected figure panels for Figs 1f, 2c, 2f, 2g and 3h and Supplementary Figs S8, S9a, S9b, S11, S13b, S18 and S28. Our results and conclusions are not affected by these errors, but we apologise for the careless mistakes made.’

    Nature’s own article on the subject of image fraud (April 2010) is revealing:

    Nature state that ‘When we receive a complaint, we first do our own tests on the figures to see whether the charges have merit. … If there were no data fraud and no intent to deceive, for example, and if only one or two images were involved, we would allow the authors to publish an erratum and supply appropriate data, figures, original gels or images as supplementary information. Such an erratum can enhance the authors’ reputation for honesty. But if most of the figures are problematic, we will strongly urge the authors to retract the paper, even if they were cleared of misconduct and even if the paper’s main conclusions have been verified independently by other labs. The logic is that the published paper did not accurately reflect the data as they were collected.’

    From what I can see, Nature simply ignored their own published approach. It was obvious that the authors were deliberately deceiving readers – look at the 20 or so pieces of image fraud in this one article:
    Indeed the Corrigendum itself may contain duplicated images e.g. new Figures 2f, 2g look very suspicious. 11jigen then went on to investigate the lab’s other papers and produce the extensive list of problems now becoming clear (23 other papers with image fraud, including other cases in Nature or its sister journals).

    RW and other sites have pointed out the worrying trend in mega-corrections, and this case is highly relevant to that argument. JCO allowed a similar correction with the Roman-Gomez story now also emerging in another RW thread – allowing complete replacement of an entire figure that had been STOLEN from another lab’s publication. I can’t see any other interpretation: these journals are sweeping problems under the carpet by allowing Corrigenda to be published when there is clear evidence of fraud. Journals should clearly be issuing expressions of concern for such papers and demanding comprehensive investigation of each case by the host institution. If the institution won’t comply, then the paper is retracted. How difficult is that?

    Perhaps Abnormal Science and 11jigen are taking a break from investigating large scale fraud – it’s tiring work when the journals and institutions won’t do it. At least in this case the chickens look like they are coming home to roost, and some explaining will need to be done. Ivan / Adam – would you consider contacting Nature’s Editor about this?

    • a Nature reader April 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

      Interestingly, few days before the Nature Corrigendum was published (26 October 2011), Nature accepted another Kato paper (20 October 2011) which was published online only the following month (27 November 2011). Since the new paper conclusions are still drawn from ChIP analyses, I’m surprised that Nature give it to the press without any further caution. I’m talking about ‘GlcNAcylation of histone H2B facilitates its monoubiquitination’ by Fujiki et al. 2011, cited 3 times according to Google Scholar.

  • YouKnowBestOfAll April 10, 2012 at 5:21 am

    It is time for Retraction Index (RI) as suggested by RW which, I dare to say, is well overdue.

    RI will make publishers, editors, and especially submitting authors THINK TWICE BEFORE committing any misconduct/fraud (i.e. manipulation of data/images, plagiarism/self-plagiarism, etc.)

    RI is an important step to clean the Augean Stables in academic publication.

    • Calre francis April 10, 2012 at 6:08 am

      A retraction index by subject might be useful.
      By jounal might not be so informative as stonewalling would pay dividends (there would be an incentive for journal editors to be evasive and keep stumm) by keeping the journals place on the index low.

      When you see retractions popping up the question many have is:

      “is this simply part of the rich taspestry of life, mistakes, a few rogues happen, or is there something fundamentally wrong with this area of research?”

      As pointed out by many on this blog science has become so specialized that it is very difficult to judge fields outside your own.

      A retraction index by subject might be useful.
      By jounal might not be so informative as stonewalling would pay dividends (there would be an incentive for journal editors to be evasive and kepp stumm) by keeping the journals place on the index low.

      When you see retractions popping up the question many have is:

      “is this simply part of the rich taspestry of life, mistakes, a few rogues happen, or is there something fundamentally wrong with this area of research?”

      As pointed out by many on this blog science has become so specialized that it is very difficult to judge fields outside your own.

      You may happen to be in a field where there is more than the fair share of retractions, but would not otherwise know this, or become defensive if people just told you. I hope is that an index with a mathematical base would be taken less personally. Of course that is just a hope, and the mathematical base would depend on who decided what to include.

    • Jon Beckmann April 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Sounds to me that a retraction index would make journals even more stubborn about NOT retracting anything! What am I missing here?…

      • YouKnowBestOfAll April 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm

        If there is data manipulation/fraud and/or plagiarism/self-plagiarism, and this is revealed, and the authors/editors/publishers refuse to do the right thing – to retract the paper, thus perpetuating the fraud, they should be subject to CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION, full stop.

        It is crystal clear that current system of internal investigations is travesty.


      • Bernard Soares April 11, 2012 at 5:38 am

        Dear Jon Beckman,

        Your point is well taken. We cannot leave up to the journal editors.
        I have read many who simply think it is best not to report crime as it keeps the crime numbers down.

        The issue has been written about before:

        ‘Towards a solution: how to reduce the level of scientific fraud.’

        The sorry episode of the Paus/Bulfone-Paus fabrications has yet again shown that journal editors and reviewers of scientific articles were unable to spot quite blatant examples of data manipulation.

        Some of the editors, such as the editor-in-chiefs of the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal (EMBO Journal in short) and the editor of the mother of scientific journals, Nature, reacted quite negatively when their inability to do so was uncovered. If this expensive system, which seems to be more concerned with hierarchy and punctuation (in that order) rather than science and truth is not up to the job then where might the solution lie?

        Many people have thought long and hard about this problem. It is not a simple problem to solve.

        Every few years there are scientific frauds which make the headlines. These frauds draw reactions from incredulity and mock indignation, to more sober well-meant attempts at bringing order, for example suggesting new sets of rules. It is a bit like the quality of drivers in different countries. Even in the countries with the worst accident record there are rules of the road, it is just that people don’t follow them.

        So with science there is a set of rules for scientific publication, which if followed, would have highlighted the fact that there was something seriously wrong with the Paus/Bulfone-Paus proliferation of publications.

        The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals would have spotted fraudulent authorship on the part of Prof. Dr. R. Paus if the rules had been followed.

        These rules are simple in comparison with the rules to determine how much property tax you have to pay.

        The authorship and contributorship rules can be found here:

        One might ask what somebody who was consistently a penultimate author was doing to always be penultimate author.

        The coincidence was too frequent to be explained by somebody being part of a group.
        Sometimes they should have done more, or less, to deserve this constant position.

        The rules covering conflicts of interest can be found here:

        When were the companies he owned ever mentioned in the articles?

        A common reaction, as exemplified by the reaction of the editor-in-chief of the eMBO Journal, a Bernd Pulverer, and the editor of Nature, when being reminded of the rules was to say, in indignant tones, that they knew what the rules were and that it was up to them to decide how people went about complaining about scientific fraud. In fact that people should leave it up to them, the very people who could not spot the fraud in the first place.

        They may very well know the rules, that is not the issue. The issue is why don’t they enforce the rules?

        From their behaviour and ineffectiveness we see that the royal family of science is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

        We have all heard of the saying “education does not make you smarter”. In the case of the editors of the EMBO Journal and Nature education did not make them smarter, but lazy and arrogant, and also it made them not scientists.

        The self-serving failings of the royal family of science does suggest that we need a Republic (Res publica = public thing).

        There is already the Déjà vu database which enables you to spot duplicate publications. In fact some publications have been retracted because very high similarities were found with earlier publications

        A problem with this database is that it looks for keywords in the publications when the most important findings in a scientific publications are in the figures, typically images.

        Is is extremely important to determine if the findings are true.

        Some of the Paus/Bulfone-Paus publications (publication is only a Latinized word meaning to make something available to the public) show that the journal editors and reviewers did not even bother to look at the images that were presented as proof.

        Simple questions anybody can ask are:-

        1. Which of these things are the same?
        2. Which of these things are different?
        3. Do we expect these things to be the same or different?

        These 3 questions would have unmasked the “cutting and pasting” and the use of different exposures of the same thing pretending that it was a different thing.

        Instead of the editors of the EMBO Journal and Nature pontificating (no offence meant to the Pope by use of such a comparison) on how people should complain (Victorian etiquette is their suggestion) about fraud it would have served science better if they had opened their eyes and looked at the images and asked themselves those 3 simple questions. Sometimes we do have to look into the abyss. It is there.

        There is no point of having a system of rewards and rewards for editors.
        Behaviourism teaches us that this does not work.

        What is effective is a system of rewards and that word that the people in power have tried to banish “punishment”.

        Punishment is not the lack of a reward, but in fact a punishment. Since we do live in the money world the punishment needs to be in the form of losing money, a fine.

        “Crude” I hear the editors scoff. How can you measure what we do, or don’t do, by money? That is exactly what people do.

        They are paid money. They do not cry; “crude” when the cheques go into their bank accounts monthly. They would not cry “crude”

        If somebody went to their wallet and relieved them of 20 Euros, Pounds or Dollars. They know what we are talking about.

        Fines would work wonders. 100 Euros for failing to spot reuse of data, 1000 Euros for failing to spot data manipulation.

        Who would decide this? Certainly not the editors, their salaries would depend on denying that there was any fraud.

        Why not let members of the public point out what doesn’t fit in a scientific publication, and also what fits too well.

        “Ah! Too stupid” or “Ah! Too clever” the editors would think, although their thoughts would probably be couched in condescending, but more palatable language, such as “the public is not educated enough”. The public in the U.K. has been subjected to compulsory education since 1870. When will the public ever be educated enough?!

        The argument that the public is not educated enough does not make any sense. Do we need to remind the esteemed scientific journal editors, and the reviewers they sent the articles to, who together had decades of higher education, that they were unable to spot data manipulation that any self-respecting six-year-old would feel ashamed of? What difference does education make?

        Surely the issues are of recognizing when things don’t make sense, this requires intelligence not education, and honesty.

        From your own experience at school you know that only a tiny fraction of the brightest pupils went on to be scientists and a tinier fraction still who made it to that rarefied breed of editor. There is no lack of intelligent people.

        An analogy with the police is informative. Paying journal editors according to what is true in their journals is akin to paying the police for reducing crime. One way out of the task of reducing crime is for the police to deny that there is any crime, not to record some crimes, get into league with criminals, or become criminals in their own right, no help needed from other villains. All of these things have happened. Those who stood up against unethical behaviour in the police did not prosper. Not what fairytales would have us believe, but what in fact happens.

        Some of the past bad behaviour of the police is what editors do.

        How come the police do not get away with pretending there is no crime?

        Part is internal, many have a strong sense of ethics, and an element is external, the public points out crime, and complains about the lack of police response and any bad behaviour on the part of the police. Eventually this may reach the political level and the chief of police gets fired by the political masters. All of this is based on the public unless you want to argue for an authoritarian, undemocratic state.

        Complaining from within science is an ineffective option as those people are rapidly eliminated from the scientific world.

        The complaints need to come from the public, whose members do not rely on the scientific hierarchy for their jobs.

  • Rafa April 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Totally agree. But ideally science should be able to correct itself. If scientists got so corrupted they cannot manage themselves, we will have to submit ourselves to the court. Problem is, this is international affair… Something so complicated no-one wants to fuzz with… they prefer go on ignoring fraud.

  • amw April 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I also agree – Nature seem to have become good at ignoring fraud while the Anaesthesia journals have (to external appearances at least) become the new defenders of science (with their ultimatum in the Fujii case). But I don’t see that there is a simple solution other than what is happening now. Many scientists are unable to see fraud when it is right in front of their noses, so it is hard to see how public involvement could help.

    Without wishing to overdo it, this is a slightly bizarre war of attrition. On the one side you have the pillars of science who in the main wish to minimise the idea that science is plagued by fraud: the journal editors, university deans, learned societies and funding bodies. In a way one can understand their dilemma because keeping funding for science going (against other competing needs) is difficult at the best of times, even without evidence of fraud. It’s not like the situation with the police because these people are not trained in detecting or punishing fraud, so their main weapons are apathy, obfuscation, delaying tactics (years pass in endless investigations that never get anywhere) and, increasingly, farcical corrections when expressions of concern or retractions are obviously required (see the Kato case).

    Only in the US (the ORI) and one or two other countries is there any form of regulator to provide a degree of accountability; the UK has only an advisory body (UKRIO) whose value is questionable. But even the ORI still has to work through institutions, and won’t actually do any investigation of science – this is still entirely left up to individuals (‘whistleblowers’ if you will), usually people who have suffered in some way from scientific fraud, or witnessed the effects.

    One positive development does seem to have been the use of the internet to amplify these efforts and, it seems, effectively shame the journals and institutions into action. The great thing about this is that it is truly international, and crosses boundaries of time, language and expertise. RW is an excellent component of this, but I do feel strongly that there should be some mechanism in which the scientific concerns raised here could be fed back to the journals / institutions in a more assertive way. Most of the RW threads peter out after everyone has had their rant. Is there some way we could convert more of these threads into definitive outputs i.e. letters to journals and institutions? And could there be more follow-up in terms of whether there was any effect of the post. Too many questions from Adam and Ivan seem to get no reply, and the trail runs dry….

    • David Hardman April 11, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Whoever said it would be easy? A never-ending battle. When did you ever hear of crime going away? I don’t expect scientific misconduct to go away any time soon.

      Retraction Watch, and the likes of “Abnormalscience Blog”, individuals like to one who exposed Kato going on Youtube, are some of the positive developments.

      Money “keeping funding for science going (against other competing needs)” is the reason for the behaviour of the authorities, not the dilemma. That does not mean we have to condone the turning of blind eyes to scientific misconduct by the authorities be they “editors, university deans, learned societies and funding bodies”. The fundung bodies are not staffed by Mother Theresas, but salaried people.

      “Science” is not in itself that deserving. Perhaps it is about time we stopped judging governments by how much money they give to “science”. How much of it is science? More ant-hills run by people with “wish-lists” rather than hypotheses. Without the ant-hills the authorities(managers) would not have a position on the top, or an income. It starts to look more and more like the pre-reformation Church.
      When there is some big scandal I do get the veiw that most still believe in the main tenets of the “old-time” science, and ignore the fraying edges.

  • YouKnowBestOfAll April 14, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Dear All,

    Let’s see what we agree on and then see what we can do.

    I hope that we all agree on the need to keep and maintain the integrity of academic publishing (this is good for everyone except for the fraudsters).

    I totally agree with Bernard Soares that there are rules, but
    >The issue is why don’t they enforce the rules?we see that the royal family of science is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.<

    I do agree that the solution is not a simple thing.

    “Every big journey starts with a small step” (I’m not sure who had said this).

    I fully support the suggestion of AMW to send letters to editors/publishers/institutions demanding them to do the right thing when misconduct/fraud is revealed. Remember that we (the tax payers) work hard to pay taxes which fund (most of) the research as well as the publishing. Therefore, we have the right to demand Transparency and Accountability when our money is used (i.e. we have the right to ask questions and to demand answers from authors/editors/publishers/institutions).

    Example (for a first small step in the right direction):

    In clear case of plagiarism (verbatim text), featured on RW
    the author “has acknowledged these problems”, and
    the Editor-in-Chief “offered him the opportunity to write an erratum”.

    Sorry, but this is simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

    The journal – JCMC – is COPE member, and the publisher – Springer – also is COPE member.
    Let’s send them a letter (with copy to COPE) asking them to be so kind to adhere to the rules (i.e. to COPE Guidelines) and do the right thing!

    Confucius has pointed out that “To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle”.

    What are we lacking?

  • Rocky Fan April 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Honestly it could be difficult for the boss to find fibrications in time if his lab publishes a CNS paper every two weeks…..

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