Retraction Watch

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Researcher dismissed from university for suspected misconduct denies responsibility

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Masashi Emoto

A university in Japan dismissed a researcher earlier this month after a probe uncovered evidence of image falsification in several of his papers.

The immunology researcher, Masashi Emoto, denied any wrongdoing. He has said that the experiments in question were performed by another researcher and “he was not responsible” for the falsification.

In 2013, Emoto filed a suit against Gunma University, in which he claimed another researcher possessed the raw data for the experiments in question. Emoto requested those documents be returned to him. However, the court determined that Emoto possessed the raw data.

According to the report released by Gunma University on October 11 — without the raw data, the university could not prove Emoto committed the misconduct. However, the university determined that, as the corresponding author on the four papers, Emoto was responsible for the work.

According to our English version of the report, which we translated from Japanese using One Hour Translation, the committee concluded:

… Prof. Emoto was responsible for ensuring that research activities were conducted in accordance with scientifically sound methods and procedures … we were unable to submit evidence to prove research fraud beyond a reasonable doubt.

Emoto did not respond to our request for comment.

According to Takashi Minegishi, the chair of the inquiry committee, Emoto claimed he did not have that raw data and “was not responsible” for the falsification. Minegishi told us that Emoto filed a civil suit against the university in 2013, in which he argued that he could not submit the raw data because another researcher had them.

Minegishi declined to reveal who Emoto said possessed the raw data.

Minegishi told us “the court concluded that the documents were possessed by Prof. Emoto himself” and that he was responsible for presenting them to the university.

Aside from Emoto, three other authors appear on all four papers in question — Emoto’s wife, Yoshiko Emoto, who is also listed as his postdoc on his webpage, as well as Stefan H. E. Kaufmann and Robert Hurwitz, both from Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. Minegishi told us the university only looked into Masashi Emoto’s role in the research.

A long process

The allegations against Emoto first surfaced in February 2012. Minegishi explained that an outside expert alerted the university to potential problems in four of Emoto’s papers. After conducting a preliminary investigation to determine whether the allegations had merit, the university decided to move forward with a more formal probe on April 10, 2012. The committee completed its report on Aug. 7, 2017. (Note: Usually universities conduct an “inquiry” first to determine if there is enough evidence for a formal investigation, but it appears that the report has swapped the terms. According to the report, the committee conducted “a preliminary investigation” followed by a more formal “ inquiry.”)

Why did the investigation take more than five years? According to Minegishi, the court case — from Dec. 27, 2013 to Nov. 11, 2015 — held up the process:

Since the suit lasted so long, it delayed the release of this misconduct.

Here are the four papers:

Minegishi told us that the committee did not expand the investigation beyond the four papers.

According to the report, the committee first recommended that Emoto withdraw the papers in July 2014, while the university was still investigating. The committee made the same recommendation on Sept. 15, 2017. The university dismissed Emoto on Oct. 4, 2017.

According to the Japan Times, there was another reason Emoto was in hot water:

The university said Emoto also issued repeated tweets, including “Gunma University is hopeless,” in 2011 and 2012 under a pseudonym. The [report] said Emoto denied making the tweets.

According to the report, Emoto has not yet contacted the journals about retracting the papers. Minegishi explained that if Emoto won’t request the papers be withdrawn, the university will consider doing so.

We contacted the journals as well. After we contacted Microbes and Infection and told it about the Gunma probe, the journal emailed the publisher about retracting the article, editor David Ojcius told us.

A spokesperson for Infection and Immunity said the journal had not been contacted by the author or the university about the paper.

A spokesperson for the British Society for Immunology, which publishes Immunology, declined to comment, but noted:

BSI and its journals take allegations of malpractice very seriously and adhere to the advice outlined in the COPE guidelines regarding falsification of results and retraction.

Hat tip: Lemonstoicism

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Written by Victoria Stern

October 31st, 2017 at 11:00 am

Comments
  • Theresa Defino November 1, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Greatest. Researcher. Photo. Ever.

    • Donald Osborne November 1, 2017 at 6:52 pm

      Agreed. I was wondering whether Retractionwatch mistakenly inserted a photo of a Yakuza member instead of a mild mannered Japanese academic.

      • Toby November 2, 2017 at 6:58 pm

        I would be careful if I were you!

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