Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Shigeaki Kato up to 28 retractions, with three papers cited nearly 700 times

with 28 comments

Shigeaki Kato

Shigeaki Kato

Former University of Tokyo researcher Shigeaki Kato has notched his 26th, 27th, and 28th retractions, all in Nature Cell Biology. The three papers have been cited a total of 677 times.

Here’s the notice for “DEAD-box RNA helicase subunits of the Drosha complex are required for processing of rRNA and a subset of microRNAs:”

Although we believe that the key finding and conclusions are still valid, recently detected image manipulation in the published figures undermines our full confidence in the integrity of the study. We therefore wish to retract this Letter. We wish to acknowledge that the co-authors from collaborating groups (M.N., H.E., T.K., C.F. and B.W.O’M.) were not involved in the figure preparation.

We deeply regret any inconvenience this retraction may cause.

The paper has been cited an impressive 234 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

And here’s the notice for “Cytokines suppress adipogenesis and PPAR-γ function through the TAK1/TAB1/NIK cascade,” also cited a lot, 206 times:

Although we believe that the key finding and conclusions are still valid, recently detected image manipulation in the published figures undermines our full confidence in the integrity of the study. We have been unable to locate the original data files and confirm the validity of published results; we therefore wish to retract this Letter. We wish to emphasize that the co-authors from collaborating groups (T.Y., T.K., Y.T., H.S., Y.G. and K.M.) were not involved in the figure preparation. Junn Yanagisawa could not be reached by the journal for comment on the retraction but he has signed a previous retraction draft.

We deeply regret any inconvenience this retraction may cause.

And finally, the notice for “A histone lysine methyltransferase activated by non-canonical Wnt signalling suppresses PPAR-γ transactivation,” cited 237 times:

Although we believe that the key finding and conclusions are still valid, recently detected image manipulation in the published figures undermines our full confidence in the integrity of the study. We are unable to prove the authenticity of the presented results, as the original data files had been misplaced. We therefore wish to retract this Letter in compliance with the guidelines of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. We wish to acknowledge that the co-authors from collaborating groups (G.Y., S.T., Y.M., H.S. and K.M.) were not involved in the figure preparation.

We deeply regret any adverse consequence this retraction may cause.

Kato, as we’ve noted,

resigned from the University of Tokyo in 2012 after being found to have inappropriately manipulated dozens of images

Hat tip: Jim Woodgett

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 3rd, 2014 at 11:30 am

Comments
  • JATdS November 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I think this is a case of sheer brilliance in legacy. And I don’t mean this in any glorifying way. Even though he is a hard-boiled academic fraud, he will be remembered more than any other professor from the University of Tokyo. Think about it, can you think of the name of any professor from the University of Tokyo? I can’t. Except for Shigeaki Kato. He received a good salary for years, he has had to pay nothing back. He has received benefits, travel grants and other concessions in the years he was committing his fraud. He had not had to pay back, not even a single yen. The Japanese Government (MEXT) and the University of Tokyo have sacked him and shamed him, so what? The increasingly impoverished Japanese tax-payers have been seriously defrauded, and he walks free. It is these cases that make scientists grit their teeth in anger. Because they indicate that the academic structures in place are so grossly corrupted.

    So, his downfall has actually enshrined his name – even if for the worst possible reason – in science history forever. Think about it: FOREVER. As I say, I think it’s sheer brilliance. Seriously, who is now going to contact the journals and publishers of those 700 or more downstream papers that cited his three retracted papers, and request them to issue an erratum? Who is going to do this? I can guarantee that it will not be Kato, or the University of Tokyo. So, in his plunge from grace, he has, through the power invested by Thomson Reuters and an academic publishing structure that has failed hopelessly to create a system that deals with fraud and with effectively cleaning up the literature associated with a retraction, created his own platform for propelled eternal legacy. It is so brilliant, in such a negative way.

    • Leonid Schneider November 3, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      Kato’s case is universal and how it was dealt with proves that the whole world-wide system of science is gravely ill, and it is the scientists themselves who are the problem (i.e., more often than not, wrong or even dangerous people are successful in professional academia). The whole concept of sensationalism-seeking top-tier journals, of impact-factor based grant funding and of academic nepotism and intransparency must be rooted out.

  • Sylvain Bernes November 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I don’t understand how it’s possible to “believe that the key finding and conclusions are still valid” and, at the same time, “[to be] unable to prove the authenticity of the presented results”. A paradigm of experimental sciences seems to be broken here.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t congratulate Nature Cell Biology on having managed to delay a retraction for 11 years:
    “Nat. Cell Biol. 5, 224–230 (2003); published online 24 February 2003; retracted online 31 October 2014”.

    • Leonid Schneider November 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      Apparently, science publishing uses the Soviet approach of Dialectics. It is under such approach very much possible for white to be black and for data to be valid in absence of valid data.

    • Marco November 4, 2014 at 1:05 am

      I don’t think they “delayed” the retraction for 11 years. Kato’s image manipulations didn’t really come up until some 2½ years ago.

      • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 6:08 am

        It is likely those who knew Kato personally were well aware that his works hadn’t been not “kosher”. Otherwise it would be an insult to their intelligence. Yet, what counted was: the man was publishing, and how! 2,5 years ago something went wrong, friends turned enemies, maybe for private reasons, and the avalanche of retractions came.
        Unfortunately, science is not at all about quest for knowledge or striving to understand how nature works. Well, it is about understanding how “Nature” and “Science” work. It is about churning out papers and ideally placing them in high-impact journals using good storytelling, thus securing grant money and associated power and influence. Kato used to be very good at it indeed.

        • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 6:09 am

          correction: “were well aware that his works hadn’t been “kosher”

  • Leonid Schneider November 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I have a mathematical question. How many papers, numerically or percentage-wise, must a scientist have retracted, before top-tier journals find some spare time to look into this scientist’s other papers? With Kato it was 25, which made NCB finally consider having to scrutinise his 3 papers with them.

    • Sylvain Bernès November 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      28 papers are retracted until now, but 43 are publicly known to be bogus:
      http://news.sciencemag.org/education/2013/07/forty-three-university-tokyo-papers-are-tainted-says-japanese-news-report
      Kato published at least 165 papers between 1996 and 2011. The threshold you are asking for may thus be estimated to be (43/165)*100: before top-tier journals wake up, 25% of the production of a leading researcher should be retracted.

      • Leonid Schneider November 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

        Any chance the public gets bored with Kato news and the journals will not have to retract remaining 43 (or over 100?) papers? Back to business, that is 😉

        • JATdS November 4, 2014 at 12:06 am

          I wish to reemphasize my irritation. The Japanese public is literally ignorant about the Kato case. From what I can perceive, being in Japan, it received an infinitesimally limited air-time on TV and newspapers in Japan, and got almost no attention relative, for example, to the Obokata case. I suspect that the University of Tokyo – given its high profile and political clout – did an excellent job in silencing the media and critics and deflecting the public’s attention. Some cosmetic changes occurred like a public declaration of research and publishing ethics codes on their web-site, but what action did they take against Kato. He resigned for goodness sake, he wasn’t even sacked, showing how he made brilliant mockery of the whole system and academic institution in Japan. And, given his age, he is somewhere, nicely retired no doubt, with no consequences for his fraud. Is this right? Is this the science-social model that we should approve, and agree with? I ask, Prof. Kato, are you receiving a retirement package from the Japanese government paid for by Japanese tax-payers? These are the questions that no-one is asking, but why not? Am I, for example, Prof. Kato, a tax-paying citizen in Japan who is supporting your retirement? If so, trust me, I am extremely displeased to be paying into a system that supports frauds financially.

          And while Obokata is actually living under a constant surveillance system at the moment, repeating (or attempting to repeat) her experiments, with the undoubtedly sad and stressful suicide of Sasai constantly on her mind, Kato roams free. Free of all conscience and free of any justice, criminal or other. If Kato were to receive as much media time as Obokata using the number of retractions as the relative unit of comparison, we should have been hearing about Kato on TV, every day, for at least 140 months (28 retractions vs Obokata’s 2; intense news on Obokata for at least 10 months). So, why is it that the Japanese public has barely heard of Kato, but everyone knows Obokata? It is these highly uncomfortable questions that MEXT, Kato, the University of Tokyo, or the Japanese media do not want to answer. So, even though I agree with Leonid that the scientist holds the prime responsibility, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that his fraud is comfortably cocooned within a system that appears to support it, or at least takes no measures to punish him for it. At the end of the day, it is the Japanese tax-payers who have been made fools of.

          • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 1:59 pm

            Interesting comparison, JATdS! An elder male professor on one hand and a young woman fresh from university. Even in a less conservative and male-dominated society like Japan is, one of them would clearly be in huge advantage when caught cheating.
            But what you tell us means Kato is actually not utterly out of friends. All he was asked to do, is take an early retirement, to keep the press out of Tokio University. Ah, these good ole boys networks!

  • karlvonmox November 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Are those 700 citations still going to count towards Nature’s impact factor?

    • Sylvain Bernès November 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Yes and no.
      No, because the two- and five-year windows used by Thomson Reuters for citation counts are now closed for these articles, published in 2003 and 2007.
      Yes, because the artificially inflated IF’s for NBC over the period 2005-2013 contribute (at least in part) to the increase of the IF for some years after the windows have been closed. This is a side effect related to the Matthew effect: the submission rate to NBC is high because the journal claims he has a high IF, regardless of the actual reliability of this metric.
      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect

  • Morty November 3, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    This case is a scandal and clearly illustrate the serious problems scientific publishing is facing. Far too long time from allegations of misconduct first time was reported to investigation was initiated and journals finally retracted the articles. However: honor to the University of Tokyo for their responsibility and for making the conclusions public.
    My question is: why are research institutions like MD Anderson, UCSD, and Wayne State Univ. in the US not lifting a finger to investigate similar cases?
    Allegations of misconduct from Dr. Kato were reported by blogs, like this one:

    http://karinlab-et-al.blogspot.no/2012/02/summary-of-alleged-image-manipulation.html

    Several other researchers are listed in this blog, some of them with a long list of articles with irregularities, clearly illustrated.

    E.g.: A similar case from MD Anderson was investigated in 2012. If you contact the administration at MD Anderson and ask for a conclusion from this investigation, you will not get any response. Several researchers have tried.

    This is not an allegation of misconduct but a call for an independent public investigation in cases where serious allegations of misconduct are known.

    • Leonid Schneider November 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      An old lab proverb says: “A scientist under misconduct investigation is a scientist who lost his friends”. Pardon me for using satire again, but it is tough to face reality otherwise.

      • JATdS November 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

        And I wish to introduce a new proverb of my own, to extend the current one: a scientist who investigates the misconduct of his peers is a scientist who has no friends.

        • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 8:47 am

          nah, the proverb goes like this: “a scientist who investigates the misconduct of his peers is a future ex-scientist”.

      • Jennifer Lopez November 4, 2014 at 5:43 am

        Leonid, wise words…

        http://i.imgur.com/Zj51CnU.png

        • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 5:50 am

          thanks, love your picture, but I have actually made up that proverb 😀

          • Jennifer Lopez November 4, 2014 at 5:53 am

            LOL… I can change the author!!!

          • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 6:11 am

            Please don’t, I love it like it is. Posted it already on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Let us hope we created a viral meme.

          • Dave Langers November 4, 2014 at 6:51 am

            You misattributed the source and perhaps even committed data fabrication, you mean? I think this contribution should be retracted, or at least the original comment should be flagged with an expression of concern.
            Furthermore, although I appreciate the credit that is given in the picture by Jennifer to Simon Koopmann, attributing this poster to worldofproverbs.com seems a bit dodgy. I could not find the original reference on that website.
            Something smells fishy in this comment thread!

          • Jennifer Lopez November 4, 2014 at 7:12 am

            Dear Dr. LAngers,

            thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We conducted an investigation, and found that a current postdoc mislabeled the name of the site. It should be read nature.com instead of worldofproverbs.com.
            However, the conclusions are still valid.
            We apologize for any problem we might have caused.

            By the way, the postdoc was fired

          • Sylvain Bernès November 4, 2014 at 8:52 am

            I hope the PI who supervised the postdoc has been promoted to full tenure.

          • Leonid Schneider November 4, 2014 at 8:43 am

            Dear Dr. Langers,
            acting on behalf of Dr. Schneider, I herewith accuse you of deliberately spreading defamatory accusations against my client. He “has never been found responsible for research misconduct. He has published more than […] papers. He has, to date, not had one retracted by a journal”.
            I shall subpoena RW for your IP address and other identifying information.
            Moreover, I shall insist that some “court should examine – in addition to the [your] own defamatory, tortuous, and bad faith conduct – in order to deny [RW] any claim in law or equity that it may have to quash a subpoena for the poster’s [identity]. See also, e.g., Sarkar v. Does

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