Five Kato papers subject to an expression of concern, plus, a statute of limitations on correcting the literature?

katoShigeaki Kato, an endocrinology researcher who resigned last year from the University of Tokyo and has retracted five papers, now has five more papers subject to an expression of concern.

Here’s the notice in Molecular and Cellular Biology:

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) are issuing this Expression of Concern to alert readers to doubts about the integrity of the data in papers coauthored by Dr. Shigeaki Kato.

In 2012, ASM was notified that the University of Tokyo Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences is conducting an investigation of possible scientific misconduct by Dr. Kato. Among the publications under investigation for possible data manipulation are these five MCB articles. The Expression of Concern is only for papers coauthored by Dr. Kato that have been published since 2007, in accordance with the DHHS/ORI six-year limitation on research misconduct (

MCB has contacted the Research Promotion Department of the University of Tokyo and asked to be informed of the findings of their ongoing investigation. Once ASM has been notified of the outcome of the investigation by the University of Tokyo, MCB will take appropriate action regarding these publications.

The five papers are:

  • Corepressive Action of CBP on Androgen Receptor Transactivation in Pericentric Heterochromatin in a Drosophila Experimental Model System (2009, cited 8 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge)
  • Coactivation of Estrogen Receptor β by Gonadotropin-Induced Cofactor GIOT-4 (2009, cited 9 times)
  • Vitamin K Induces Osteoblast Differentiation through Pregnane X Receptor-Mediated Transcriptional Control of the Msx2 Gene (2007, cited 45 times)
  • A Regulatory Circuit Mediating Convergence between Nurr1 Transcriptional Regulation and Wnt Signaling (2007, cited 28 times)
  • The Pituitary Function of Androgen Receptor Constitutes a Glucocorticoid Production Circuit (2007,
    cite 17 times)

In general, we’re big fans of this kind of move, alerting readers that there may be something wrong with papers instead of waiting for sometimes-interminable institutional investigations. So that’s good.

Still, we found the statute of limitations line a bit odd. We understand that the ORI might have that kind of statute, but why wouldn’t the publisher want to correct the record, no matter how old a paper? One journal retracted a paper more than 27 years after publishing it, in what is likely the record. We’ve contacted the ASM for comment, and will update with anything we learn.

7 thoughts on “Five Kato papers subject to an expression of concern, plus, a statute of limitations on correcting the literature?”

  1. Well… the University of Tokyo, in compliance with the ORI statute, is not investigating more than those 5 papers as far as MCB is concerned.
    In the sentence about the statute of limitation, one could just as well read that the journal is actually not entirely sure about earlier works either, but that they currently have no immediate grounds for an EoC.

  2. There are some complicated issues here…..

    First, I’m not sure that Expressions of Concern are the way to go. This action casts suspicion on a paper that has not been proven wrong, in a way that seems to flout due process. In other words, it seems that an author can be judged guilty until proven innocent. It would be far better to have faster evaluations of work done by the parent institution. There is no reason why it should more than a year to assess the validity of a published study, as it did in this case. Institutions should respond much more aggressively to allegations of fraud.

    Second, the statue of limitations from ORI clearly relates to criminal prosecution arising from grant fraud, where the standard statute of limitations for most crimes should prevail. But there should never be a statue of limitations for correcting the literature!

  3. The work of Shigeaki Kato’s group in MCB papers was supported mainly by grants from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology or other funding agency of JAPAN.

    Their work has not much to do with Office of Research Integrity (ORI) or NIH.

  4. I think the statue is an implementation of what we also know from criminal law: cases age. That isn’t to allow evil-doers to get away with certain deeds, but because it can be difficult to accurately reproduce the truth from a longer time ago. In addition, retracting a paper that is really old (and commonly cited) may imply a house-of-cards type effect (which may or may not be justified). There’s something to be said for waiting for the community to verify the older results, rather than (potentially) pulling the foundation under hundreds of papers partially based an old work.

  5. Excellent point. The Federal time limit of 6 years for an allegation to be made after the misconduct/publication in no way limits the journals nor the institutions from pursuing earlier research – and knowing about such other cases of misconduct can be a factor in recognizing a long time pattern suggesting more severe sanctions are warranted by the Feds and the institutions.

  6. In British law, generally followed by US, Canada, etc., application of the statute of limitations is not automatic – this is an item which is being brought up as an item of Defence. At this, the Defence must show that in that period of time, the behaviour of the accused was blameless, that the accused did not aggravate the fraud, etc. If this is not shown, statute of limitations does not apply. I would think that if the accused published other fraudulent material in this period, the defence by statute of limitations is not possible.

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