Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

On vigorous scientific debates, witch hunts, and the tragedy of suicide

with 35 comments

logoThe suicide earlier this week of Yoshiki Sasai, one of the scientists who worked on the now-discredited STAP stem cell work, was a startling and sobering reminder to the research community and the public that misconduct can take a heavy human toll – even on people like Sasai, whom by all accounts only had the misfortune of working with a dishonest colleague.

The tension surrounding this case and others was well-captured by University of California, Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen, who himself lost his father, also a scientist, to suicide in 1987 in a case that he said had haunting parallels to Sasai’s:

Obviously, fraud is a terrible thing. Nothing provides as deep an existential threat to the scientific enterprise than making up data. But as bad as it is, there is something deeply ugly about the way the scientific community responds to misconduct. We need to deal swiftly with fraud when it is identified. But time after time I have watched the way not only the accused, but everyone around them, is treated with such sanctimonious disdain it is frankly not surprising that some of them respond in tragic ways.

Some of the commenters on Eisen’s post, as well as here on Retraction Watch, have had questions like this:

Can we ask whether prominent Web sites like Retraction Watch contribute to this toxic “witch hunt” environment?

We have heard this implied — and sometimes very direct — criticism before. Sometimes it is from people who believe that what we do is dangerous to science because it will diminish trust and therefore funding — a “shoot the messenger” argument we respond to here.

But the suicide of a scientist understandably unearths raw feelings and emotions. Mercifully, of the hundreds of cases like this that we have covered over the past four years, only two have involved the intentional death of a researcher. Although even that number is too high, the vast majority of scientists who fabricate their data or otherwise commit professional misdeeds endure the publicity and shame their actions ultimately bring on without taking their own lives.

The question, however, is whether the risk that someone might not be able to withstand public scrutiny of his or her actions justifies quashing open discussion of such cases. We believe, emphatically, that the answer is no.

Our operating system at Retraction Watch runs on a fairly basic principle: Bright sunlight, as Louis Brandeis put it, is the best disinfectant, which means that fair and honest reporting of retractions and other aspects of scholarly publishing is the best defense against cheating and obfuscation. We simply report the facts as we know them in a style we believe to be engaging and respectful. Others agree.

One of the criticisms we’ve seen in recent days — and which echoes past critiques — is that our focus on retractions leaves out the larger context of science, particularly the pressures that today’s publish or perish incentives bring to bear on researchers. That context, however, informs our work every day, and has formed the basis of some of our big pieces, including this invited Comment in Nature in 2011, for example. Some believe that we don’t do enough to emphasize the small fraction of published papers that retractions represent. We do, however. Here’s just one example, an interview Ivan did on a Boston NPR affiliate this week that begins with him placing the numbers in context.

Still, we could always include more context, so we appreciate this constructive criticism. But we firmly believe that cataloging and probing the symptoms of some of these problems — in our case, that means retractions — is a good way to check the health of transparency in science.

What goes along with that is our belief that a vigorous and open debate is crucial to science. For that reason, we allow our thousands of commenters substantial latitude in their posted opinions. We draw the line at remarks that are libelous, that generate heat without providing any light, or are otherwise inappropriate.

Indeed, we receive as much criticism from those who accuse us of being too strict and deliberate with our screening of comments as we do from those who say some of the comments we let through are too intemperate. What has become clear this week, in public comments and in private conversations, is that when some critics say that Retraction Watch is contributing to a witch hunt-like atmosphere, they are more than likely thinking of our comments than our posts.

We can always do better in our comment moderation. But we hold firm to the notion that the more robust the conversation, the better the science. We are, as we’ve said a number of times, big fans of PubPeer, where those conversations have led to important corrections and retractions.

Those conversations are not easy for those whose work is being questioned. And we are neither ignorant nor indifferent to the potential personal ramifications for those whose publications are being discussed. But to repeat: The more robust the conversation, the better the science.

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 7th, 2014 at 11:50 am

Posted in RW announcements

  • Bill Skaggs (@weskaggs) August 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you for this very thoughtful post. Balancing is always difficult, and I think you do a pretty good job of it in general.

  • Peer007 August 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Well said. You do an important job, and I find this site to be exceedingly well balanced and fair. I think it’s very easy to criticize Retraction Watch simply because the content of this site focuses on the slimy underbelly of science, and deals squarely with things we wish never occurred. But this criticism is true of journalism in general (very rarely is the news good) and our societal standards say this is a job that isn’t always or often pleasant, but needs to be done. I’d say you meet the highest standards.

  • Joe Turner (@bucksci) August 7, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Suicide is a tricky subject to talk about, particularly when it involves links to management, misconduct and possibly even cultural ideas of shame and honour.

    But even leaving aside this tragic incident – clearly highlighting misconduct is having an impact on the careers of academics. Which is affecting them, their families, the departments they work in, and so on.

    The moral question is the same for any kind of journalism, should misconduct be reported or hidden. Ivan et al are not doing the retractions themselves, they are simply trying to report the facts and retraction process as instigated by others. In a similar way, reporters file on court cases, misconduct in public life and so on. All of these things have potential to affect the innocent, but that is the nature of the truth.

    If there is anyone to blame for the pain inflicted on the innocent, it is with those who wilfully try to get away with misconduct. If they had not tried to do it, there wouldn’t be a problem.

  • Paul Brookes August 7, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    All good points, and I think together with DrugMonkey’s post (TL/DR: it’s pressure to publish or perish that leads to these tragic events, not the guys who merely document transgressions) the point is clear – don’t shoot the messenger.

    Another link that ties in nicely with these posts is an article in Slate, asking why the stem cell field appears to be particularly susceptible to fraud? ( The answer is quite simple… the “sexier” the science, the more pressure to fake it. If history is any predictor, we can expect a decent number of retraction/misconduct cases to emerge in the CRISPR/genome editing field about 3-5 years from now.

  • Sam August 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Pub Peer and the like are far more to blame for inaccurate accusations, slander and the disruption of legitimate research misconduct investigations than RW, who seem, for the most part, only to report after definitive findings based on actual review of the raw data and witness testimony. There are many sour grapes out there and they seem to spend an extraordinary amount of time online publically pointing out their interpretation of faults in others (albeit occasionally correctly). Those currently under lawsuits for online character defamation may very well deserve it.

    • Stewart August 8, 2014 at 7:30 am

      @ Sam

      There have been several accusations that false science fraud accusations are prevalent out there. You reiterate this.

      Can you provide an example?

    • Alexander Berg August 8, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      RW AND Pub Peer are both essential for correction of the scientific literature. Remember that the first and last authors get a copy of the posted discussion and are able to answer and show raw data. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this is not usual. My experience with Pub Peer is that most of the discussions posted there are sound. A few of them are questionable, but usually these posts shed light on obvious data irregularities. Before the post-publication blog era it was easier to get away with misconduct, thanks to Pub Peer it will be more difficult. I encourage scientist to use Pub Peer and to report all obvious irregularities there in addition to the respective journal as well.

    • Dave Langers August 11, 2014 at 11:24 am

      PubPeer allows you to point out anomalies in data and ask for clarification. Their policy is explicitly that you are NOT allowed to “slander” or accuse the authors of fraud, even if it is hard to imagine what other reason there might be for “apparently manipulated figures” for instance.
      Perhaps questions surrounding poorly comprehensible results are implicitly read as an accusation, but even then it is a fault of the reader or author if (s)he cannot distinguish between attacks on their work and on their person.

    • Scrutineer August 11, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Oh Sam, what is this? “Those currently under lawsuits for online character defamation may very well deserve it.”

      Trouble is, there aren’t any “currently under lawsuits” because of their PubPeer entries are there? Where is the evidence that PubPeer is legally stressed? Which entries have they been forced to delete? Which IPs are they being requested to hand over?

      PubPeer insist in their terms and conditions that you keep it scientific and avoid the personal. If anything they currently control that relatively softly: They could be stricter. Which I interpret as evidence that PubPeer is not being massively subpoena’d for details of their commentators or they would be advising those commentators to tone things down. They do moderate (and I have personal experience) but right now everything points to the PubPeer developers being rather chuffed with their impact on scientific discourse, much valued as it is by those trying to eke out an honest living at the coalface of science.

      Sam, you have been asked to provide one example of a false science fraud accusation but, perhaps because there aren’t any good contemporary examples, you have gone rather quiet.

  • Shecky R August 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Yes, I hope people DO NOT use these sorts of tragedies as an excuse to tiptoe away from the necessary/important close scrutiny of scientific conduct and methodology (even while agreeing “witch hunts” ought be avoided). I’m in the camp believing the ‘cleansing’ effect of sunlight outweighs even events this tragic. And while there are possible parallels between two such cases, there are also significant differences: i.e. for good or ill, the Japanese have a long cultural history of suicide in response to humiliation, dishonor, or just failure of responsibility. In America there is far less such “culture” involved, though a lot of professional pressure and depression is brought to bear on career success, and some individuals simply possess better coping mechanisms than others.

  • Nurse Dina August 7, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    What about the shame and destruction for the victims of scientific misconduct? If not for your site there is no hope for the victims. Plagiarists get away with misconduct every day, without remorse, no mercy. How many victims have turned to suicide? The whole picture is tragic, keep shedding light please.

  • Tinker August 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    It has become harder for me to accept your argument that you mean well for science since you cited Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s campaign for strong political oversight over publicly funded science[1].

    Make no mistake, this is a campaign by people who hate the public funding of science (just read the comments by new Retraction Watch fan ‘ed goodwin’ in the link below) and will want to use these new powers to do far more than correct fraud. Their aim is to prevent the study of topics that their voters disagree with, be it stem cells, evolution, climate or a host of others.

    The Republican party is an anti-science party – there is a reason only 5% of American scientists are Republicans. By citing them you have added the debate about how science handles fraud and error to a tired old Democrats vs Republicans argument about public sector waste and ‘big government spending’.

    I say all this as somebody living in Europe with no interest in partisan American politics. I’m just a bit sad that what was once a worthwhile project about correcting errors in the literature has become a political talking point for others. Their campaign is using the existence of scientific malpractice as an excuse to reduce funding of public science and politicise things like which topics receive funding and how malpractice is dealt with, which should be internal to science, not decided by politicians with a massive interest in censoring the science that their voters don’t approve of.


  • littlegreyrabbit August 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Unless you remove the concept of transgression from society altogether you can’t avoid shame – whether it is people caught in drug cheating in sport, substance abuse, accountancy fraud or scientific fraud. How shame can be managed will vary from culture to culture and its management is largely the responsibility of the individual and their employer.

    As far as this particular case goes, I think it is possible the amount of influence Retraction Watch blog commentators really have in Japan and besides I didn’t think much of the focus was on Sasai, rather on the young post-doc (who I did and do feel some sympathy for).

    People like to assume that scientific fraud is the result of individuals working in secret and isolation, my experience suggests to me this is the exception rather than the rule. However, in this case, because the necessity of replication was so obvious and the finding so paradigm breaking, I think this may be more a case involving self-delusion rather than cynicism.

    In anycase I have reasonably consistently argued that we should scale down punitive approaches and look for transparency and avoidance of scape-goating. The cases where I definitely feel there was an element of cyber-bullying or baiting were Anil Potti and Ahluwalia (sp?)
    By comparison I think the below the line discussion on STAP cells has been relatively restrained and fact based – and not aimed at Sasai

  • Bashir August 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    “And we are neither ignorant nor indifferent to the potential personal ramifications for those whose publications are being discussed.”

    Ok. Can you tell me more about this?
    To be clear, I don’t think RW is part of any sort of Witch Hunt problem.

  • smoroi August 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    There is no doubt that a system of checks and balances serve an important role. The vitriolic sentiments supposedly aimed at Retraction Watch ill-aimed, and are nowhere near the ugliness now being seen in Japan. I took the gist of Dr. Eisen and similarly others along those lines to be more of the ‘gotcha’ factor, which is indeed prevalent in academia. There is sufficient evidence of witch hunts being generated and sustained by fellow scientists.

    Whilst several cottage industries have arisen from a ‘gotcha’ factor, it is a stretch to attribute someone’s death on Retraction Watch’s doorstep. Witch hunts thrive on frenzy, fear and distorting public perceptions. Witness the calls for Obokata’s death and never-before-heard-of legal and financial punishments for the research fraud.

    However, the influence and power of journalism and the media on scientific research; to say otherwise is naive and ill-informed. Without the perceived approval from publishing an article in a journal, a scientist will never be promoted, most likely not be competitive for funding and most assuredly not be in conversations about “who-is-who” in science circles. Indeed, the internal connections that Nature Japan has with the CDB and RIKEN contributed to the decision to publish a previously known suspect article.

    In the ongoing STAP RIKEN-Nature debacle – never forget for even a moment that Dr. Sasai was a son, a husband and father in addition to being a learned, disciplined and gifted scientist. Please do not preclude the fact that Dr. Obokata is a human being. At the end of the day, are not wishes for accountability, veracity and accountability in science not common (enough) ground for all of you to get your heads around? Are even two deaths “out of hundreds” acceptable? At the increasing rate of violent wishes for Obokata-san, there may be soon enough another statistic to add. . .

    • Bill Guthrie August 7, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      Beautifully said, “never forget for even a moment that Dr. Sasai was a son, a husband and father in addition to being a learned, disciplined and gifted scientist. Please do not preclude the fact that Dr. Obokata is a human being. At the end of the day, are not wishes for accountability, veracity and accountability in science not common (enough) ground for all of you to get your heads around? Are even two deaths “out of hundreds” acceptable?” I was forever trying to remind disappointed colleagues, “what’s wrong? aren’t you getting paid? couldn’t you go get a job somewhere else if you’re that unhappy? have you seen how beautiful it is outside your office?”

    • Stewart August 10, 2014 at 4:03 am

      No-one likes to hear of deaths of any type and my sympathies are with the family. The STAP affair was very interesting in the beginning, Photoshoots were aplenty and the beautiful, young female scientist showed older fuddy duddy scientists just don’t cut the Mustard and are no longer required for sexy, stem cell science that could revolutionise the world of medicine (it really could). A professors/head of departments dream! In no time she would be a professor and “guiding” younger scientists to do the same amazing work as her.

      There are a few tell tales signs in this link.
      1. Dr Obokata was looking very confident in the limelight, usually scientists are good at science, and not alot else, so this was slightly unusual. I must say though, in our laboratory, there would be no-one allowed to work in tissue culture suites with exposed toes, such as Obokata was.

      2. I believe the way Dr Obokata uses the pipette is inappropriate. You may see the Dr replacing the tip of the pipette back into her stock solution of additives AFTER adding the first aliquot into her flask of cells. This would lead to contamination of stock solutions. It is a no no in all good labs.

      3. Lovely presentation skills are demonstrated, even holding the mic aptly whilst showng images of GFP cells in flasks.

      This was all very persuasive. There was only one, small, tiny problem. It was all fake. Every single bit.

      It didn’t matter whether anything was contaminated due to poor pipetting technique afterall.

      If we have learned anything, we have learned the stem cell theory is just that. A THEORY. It is unproven. Some even call “stem cells”…… “a very creative notion”, yet believe that if we focus on these “stem cells” we will find cures for cancer.

      Does anyone really fall for this anymore?

      • Marco August 10, 2014 at 9:41 am

        “just a theory” ? Creationists like to say that about evolution, but in science you hardly can get it any better than a theory.

        What Obokata did or didn’t do also does not change one yota about stem cell theory.

        • Stewart August 10, 2014 at 12:49 pm


          Fogrive me, It is not a theory. It is an *unproven* theory.

          After billions of tax payers dollars it is still unproven. Maybe it never will be.

          • Marco August 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm

            What exactly is “unproven?”
            The existence of stem cells?
            The ability of stem cells to differentiate?
            The ability to steer (to some extent) the differentiation of those stem cells?
            Their role in various diseases (in particular cancer)?
            Their therapeutic potentiatl in treatment of various diseases?

          • stewart August 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm


            If you specify which “stem cell” you are referring to i.e. the phenotypic markers of that cell confirming its “stemness”, I would be happy to answer your questions.


          • Marco August 10, 2014 at 3:44 pm

            I have my answer already. Thanks!

  • kentclizbe August 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm


    When the truth is seen as a “witch hunt,” then we’ve got much bigger problems than in science.

    Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

    A motto that all fraudsters should consider–from science, to politics, to business, and throughout our society.

    Vetting science, politics, and business, and telling the truth are dangerous and subversive–from the point of view of the malefactors.

    You cannot control their responses to the rock they live under being lifted.

    Keep up the good work.


    • Dave Langers August 8, 2014 at 9:27 am

      I do agree.
      Moreover, science has a higher standard to uphold than just any field. There is a reason why politicians like to support their opinions with scientific facts if they can, but scientists never support their theories with politician’s opinions. The reason is that the only thing that science has that makes it shine like no other discipline is a rigorous quest for “the truth”. At least ideally. And that means that the going must get tough when that is endangered. Anyone in science should realise that. Also the ones who are not engaging in fraudulent activity, but just happen to be nearby. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Preferably before you get burnt, no dishonour in that.
      That doesn’t make a suicide less tragic for the ones involved, I realise, but if we abandon the persecution of science fraud to avoid such potential consequences, then there is no science left.

  • Maria August 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    As someone who recently started reading your blog, I definitely see it as journalism – the blog covers retractions/corrections. I thought the posts were pretty measured in tone (i know the comments can get heated, but that’s true for other news sites as well). As for the recent tragedy in Japan, i would think the (reported) relentless Japanese media focus on the case would be more of a contributor than Retraction Watch coverage.. Perhaps people familiar with that coverage and its tone can comment on whether it became a “witch-hunt” to a certain extent.

  • MN August 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    I have been following the STAP fiasco on and off in Japanese media, and in this specific incidence, I don’t think it was the vigorous scientific scrutiny that triggered this tragedy but the deplorable institutional management and the accompanying media frenzy almost akin to those that surrounded OJ Simpson trial or Princess Diana at the time of her death. Who would have thought to see this distinguished stem cell scientist’s name tarnished and disgraced in tabloids and gossip magazines with baseless accusations? Japanese media, including many respectable outlets, went all out on this and still continue to do so by leaking contents of the notes he left behind. The whole thing is absolutely disgusting.

  • Pinko Punko August 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    When I scroll through pub peer and some of the images posted from the “gotcha” crowd, I see a lot of normal blots and regular gel artifacts where accusations are being made about duplicated bands. These are present at the same time as some images where bands are seem much more obviously duplicated. I remember a case on “Science Fraud” website where a blot of a fractionation was criticized for not having a loading control- which makes no sense for that experiment. There are no doubt in my mind both spurious and accurate accusations that are tossed around in some cases, but some critiques have a level of apparent inaccuracy or sloppiness that I am not comfortable with.

    • Stewart August 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      @ Pinko Punko

      Do you have a named example of accusations you reason have no validity, or are “spurious”, as you mention, above?

      Or, perhaps name the case you mention on science-fraud, you say you saw, so we may see where you are coming from.

  • Bill Guthrie August 7, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Half my working life I was an academic: part of my job was monitoring research funding, and with that, research outcomes. One of these posts was in the USA, one in China, in a multi-national faculty. Meetings, both of the committees and with the researchers, were typically intricate and often difficult, and it seemed the difficulty often proceeded from the particular researcher’s identification with his work. I mean that some researchers are working on furniture or fixing an automobile, or you can see them working that way in their minds, and some researchers are dressing themselves or body-building. I mean that for some, the work is what they work on, and some more nearly become their work. These are differences in culture, personality and development, and even in mentoring and grooming. Both kinds produce work. But the person who feels he is developing or decorating himself by work is more likely to take success, failure, praise and criticism personally, instead of as comment on work. From what I saw — I am not a psychologist or anything like that — it is this the personalization of work and position that causes wild reactions, sudden resignations, threats, feuds. Fortunately I knew of no suicides or murders. It does occur to me, though, that the frauds I did know, and even the people who were more likely to fudge accounts, were more likely to identify strongly with their work, and so seemed to me to be more inclined to tantrums, especially when caught. Honest people can also identify with work, and I remember a few of them who felt they had been absolutely crushed by problems with data, funding, research partners or publication. The other kind put the failed project on a shelf and do some other research, or fix it. Or laugh, and walk away, and become diplomats, bankers, or small town sheriffs . . . I knew one of each of those, and thought they were particularly fine men, but I knew no suicides, fortunately.

  • Jim Steele August 7, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    I appreciate your efforts greatly. I dare say that most scientific papers are not replicated and without replication there are no checks and balances. The next best thing is publicize the papers that are scrutinized and retracted, so cheaters understand their deeds will not go un-noticed. I believe most scientists have high integrity, but a large enough minority poison science. If rigorous debate does not happen in the the literature and scientific community then it must happen elsewhere, and the efforts by Retraction Watch are needed and will only make science better.

    • JATdS August 8, 2014 at 3:15 am

      It’s really complicated because it simultaneously draws on cold-hard facts and on pure human emotions. On one hand, if pressure was not placed on Sasai, Obokata and others, then their academic misconduct would not have been revealed, and the literature could never have been corrected. If insufficient pressure had not been applied, academic misconduct would not have been detected, or reported, or have resulted in two important retractions of “faulty” literature. It was thus important, at a scientific level, to reveal these acts of misconduct. And this applies to every single case, not only to Sasai. This is the purely scientific aspect. And in that sense, RW played its role in scientific journalism. The role of the comments section was to bdebate the underlying issues, as is expected in a public forum, i.e., a blog, with or without hawkish statements. On the other hand, as humans (independent of our nature as scientists, or other), we are drawn to the human tragedy of the suicide. Most people have at some stage in their lives reached a point of total break-down, maybe even close to suicide, so to take that extra step to actually commit suicide must be a dreadful emotion, and one which we cannot, nor want to, fathom. That said, a million reasons can be given as to how this suicide could have been avoided (because, indeed, saving every life counts), for example, less aggressiveness by the media, or more humane attitudes by the oversight committee at RIKEN, but ultimately, only one person was fully responsible for his position, his research, his team and his decisions, including of life and death. Sasai. For these responsibilities, of which he was undoubtedly fully cognizant, he also received his fair share of benefits, including an excellent salary, generous research grants and travel expenses, as well as additional pertinent benefits like comprehensive health insurance. Surely, at the moment when all seems lost, one needs to step back and reassess all that lies before them? This is an individual decision exclusively. I believe that individuals like Eisen, although trying to “humanize” the case with personal experiences, are making a slight mistake, despite their good intentions. Because the scientific and academic misconduct must be observed coldly and dispassionately from the actual act of suicide. If we mix the two, then we risk not being able to deal with discovering misconduct and fraud, at the expense that someone is going to do something extreme at some hypothetical point in the future. Many lessons emerged from this tragedy, which is still unfolding, but the main two are that 1) the oversight structure in Japanese research institutes is clearly insufficient, even in the top institutes like RIKEN or Tokyo University; 2) there is poor or insufficient psychological support structure for scientists and society due to the negative stigma associated with, broadly speaking, individuals with psychological problems, including extreme stress (from my lay-man’s understanding of the basic human psychology of this). So, while we offer our deepest respects to Dr. Sasai and those he left behind (in every capacity he held), this case should bolden the resolve of the scientific community to reveal the misconduct and the fraud using means that lessen such risks of tragedy. For example, who is carefully observing Obokata, psychologically, or providing her with care? She is most likely a high-risk suicide case right now, doubled over the Sasai tragedy. RIKEN must ensure that second tragedy does not occur. Treating Obokata like a caged animal with cameras monitoring her activities day and night for the next several months must be carefully reconsidered. Obokata appears to be a genuinely passionate and sensitive woman who is deeply concerned about the consequences of her actions. Rather than aggressively grilling her to no end, give her some peaceful and compassionate freedom to prove herself to the world with the STAP cells. If they don’t exist, then they don’t exist. It’s not the end of the world. Take for example, the latest story about another Japanese academic scandal, Shigeaki Kato [1]. Who is looking out for his mental health, offering him guidance or support? Who is carefully observing the co-authors and their psychological responses? I suspect no-one because his actions have angered the scientific community and the Japanese public who have seen an academic fraud being rewarded millions of their tax-payer Yen while they suffer increasingly devastating austerity. So, while most comments are extremely valid, I ask: how does one balance the aggression and the passion of seeking truth (incorrectly equated with witch-hunting) with the purely human factor? INcidentally, RW readers should take note that in excess of 30,000 people commit suicide in Japan each year, a horrific number, so the issue is much wider than is being portrayed.

      • smoroi August 8, 2014 at 1:29 pm

        As evidenced by my comment, you hit simular points, albeit with different tones; as they say in German “Ton macht der Musik.” ~ all how it is phrased.
        The J-science community overseers have consistently resisted calls for updating/improving/tightening/increasing transparency for far too long. Many have tried to effect positive changes, but to-date nothing of consequence has survived and taken root.
        The tools to ensure the well-being of the scientific community are insufficient; ever year scores of budding scientific careers come to a halt due to RIKEN’s inappropriate HR regulations and standards.
        In this crucial area of supporting scientific staff efforts could improve the level of science within RIKEN and Japan.

  • Samson August 8, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Over the years, I have seen people who seem to have “magical hands”, their errors bars are always small enough to be statically significant, one experiment is usually enough for them that any repeat seems a waste of time and money! They have a good life in the lab and more productive. There are also the unlucky ones, who have large variations in their data, even repeat several times do not help to make sense out of it. They have a rough life in lab and often been considered not very smart and not productive, who is not likely to succeed in academics. So gradually, the SMART ones enriches themselves like natural selection in institutions, and the public saw through the smoke and realize it is a waste of money to produce papers to hard to use in the toilet.

  • daviddlewis August 8, 2014 at 8:33 am

    The death of Professor Sasai is indeed tragic. So too is the pain of those (many more) whose scientific careers (and, who knows, maybe lives) ended because they attempted to build on work that was fraudulent, and ended up with nothing. Keep up the good work, RW.

  • Inês Varela-Silva August 10, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Reblogged this on Science Itches and commented:
    There is an urgent need of rethinking the way we do science.

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