Kenji Okajima retraction count grows to five

Kenji Okajima
Kenji Okajima

We’ve been following the case of Kenji Okajima, a professor at Nagoya City University in Japan who was suspended for six months following an investigation into work in his lab. Bits of the story — including at least one other university investigation, and scrutiny of Okajima’s colleagues, one of whom was fired — have been dribbling out for almost two years since a retraction notice in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In all, it looks as Nagoya found evidence of misconduct in 19 papers. The Journal of Neuroscience retraction appeared in 2011, and another showed up in the Journal of Immunology last year. Now there are three more: One in Translational Research and two in Blood.

Here’s the notice from Translational Research:

The Editors of Translational Research have retracted the article titled “Desalted deep-sea water improves cognitive function in mice by increasing the production of insulin-like growth factor-I in the hippocampus” by Harada et al.

After an Investigation Committee on Scientific Misconduct was formed at Nagoya City University to investigate 19 articles written by Drs. Naoaki Harada and Kenji Okajima, the committee brought one article, published in Translational Research, to our attention.

The committee concluded that Figures 4D, 4E, 4G and 4H in Translational Research (Harada et al., 2011) were derived from the same photograph as Figures 8D, 8E, 8G and 8H in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (Narimatsu et al., 2009). While Figures D and G represent control data in both articles, Figures 4E and 4H and Figures 8E and 8H represent data from two different sets of animals treated with either desalted deep sea water or donepezil, respectively. The Nagoya City University Committee concluded that Figure 4 in Translational Research (Harada et al., 2011) contains fabricated data. After the Committee pointed out these fabrications to the authors, they replaced Figures 4A-4I and an Erratum was published in Translational Research (Transl Res. 2011 Dec;158(6):387). However, the Committee has informed us that they have been unsuccessful in confirming that the new figures are the appropriate ones.

Attempts to contact Drs. Harada and Okajima were made through the Nagoya Committee, and the authors declined to respond.

The Editors

The paper has been cited only by an earlier correction and now the retraction, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Harada was the scientist dismissed by Nagoya following their investigation. Kumamoto University, where Harada and Okajima worked before Nagoya, had also found evidence of misconduct.

The retraction notice for the two papers in Blood refers to yet another institutional investigation, this one at Oita University:

Mizutani A, Okajima K, Uchiba M, Noguchi T. Activated protein C reduces ischemia/reperfusion-induced renal injury in rats by inhibiting leukocyte activation. Blood. 2000;95(12):3781-3787.

Mizutani A, Okajima K, Uchiba M, Isobe H, Harada N, Mizutani S, Noguchi T. Antithrombin reduces ischemia/reperfusion-induced renal injury in rats by inhibiting leukocyte activation through promotion of prostacyclin production. Blood. 2003;101(8):3029-3036.

The Editors wish to retract the above-cited papers. The institutional investigations by the Oita University and the Nagoya Municipal University in Japan, which focused on the research of Kenji Okajima and Akio Mizutani, concluded that the data presented in the Blood 2000 paper were obtained using fraudulent methods and hence cannot be considered reliable. Specifically, Figure 3B and Figure 3D are duplicated and rotated images of the same stained slide. In addition, some of the data were reused, without attribution, between the 2000 and 2003 Blood papers. Figures 1A,B and Fig. 4A in both papers show identical data through 24 hours. The same applies to Figure 6A in the 2000 paper and Figure 7A in the 2003 paper; and Figure 7A,B,C in the 2000 paper and Figure 8A,B,C in the 2003 paper. The Figure legends nor Methods sections in the 2003 paper do not indicate that these data were in part previously published. In addition to the issue of potential data re-use without attribution, the journal found possible problems with the data itself, since the figures up through 24 hours are identical, yet purported to result from experiments three years apart, consisting of different group sizes for the sham and R/I saline groups between the two papers.

M. Uchiba agreed to the retractions. K. Okajima was contacted by Blood, but did not respond; The remaining authors could not be contacted.

The 2000 paper has been cited 158 times, while the 2003 paper has been cited 63 times.

3 thoughts on “Kenji Okajima retraction count grows to five”

  1. The retraction at Translational Research is quite revealing in terms of what is wrong with science. I can imagine one or more members of the anti Trappist community writing to the editors a letter that demonstrated clearly the re-use of data. Result: the re-used data are replaced by other data, with a correction stating, “figures 4A∼4I were incorrect”. No mention why they were incorrect or how data re-use weighs up against journal policy.

    It took an investigation by Nagoya City University for the article to be retracted. This highlights some of what is wrong with science. Journals seem reluctant to take action to enforce their policies, perhaps because they fear that retractions will damage their brand. This fear is misplaced. Given how widespread knowledge is of data re-use and image manipulation, the first publisher that takes a hard line (including stamping “RETRACTED” across the pages of the PDF) will enhance their brand substantially. This is simply because the readership will start to trust those journals far more than others.

    1. Agreed. There are two sides of editorial decisions on retraction policy, I guess. One – anonymous emails are not entertained or anonymous emails are not given importance. Only handful of journals initiate an investigation on a paper based on anonymous requests. However, when the same was informed by the authorities – such as an institution or a university, they would react very swiftly. In the latter case, they may not even verify the facts.

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