RIKEN finds two “instances of research misconduct” in STAP stem cell work

rikenJapan’s RIKEN research center has found misconduct in work that led to two controversial Nature papers, purporting to show an easy way to create stem cells, that have been dogged by criticism for months.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s statement about “six items [RIKEN] has been investigating:”

Regrettably, of the six items, the committee judged two to be instances of research misconduct. Those involved will be strictly dealt with as per the provisions of RIKEN’s internal regulations, and RIKEN will deliberate and implement measures to ensure that this does not happen again.

And here are next steps:

The report concludes that there were two instances of research misconduct. Time will be allowed for an appeal to be made, as stipulated by RIKEN’s regulations, after which disciplinary measures will be taken, including calling for the retraction of the papers.

Those who were not found to have been involved in research misconduct still bear a heavy responsibility for their administrative negligence which allowed the research misconduct to occur. These individuals will also be subjected to disciplinary measures in accordance with RIKEN’s regulations.

RIKEN says it will also establish a committee of outside experts

to review RIKEN’s overall organization from the perspective of the inherent problems that led to the current case of misconduct, and to deliberate and recommend measures for creating a research environment that will prevent future occurrences of research misconduct.

They will also try to verify the STAP phenomenon:

Verification of the STAP phenomena can only be done through scientific inquiry by third parties. To facilitate this process and to encourage active discussion within the scientific community, RIKEN has established its own internal group to verify the results of the STSP experiments. This group will be headed by Dr. Shinichi Aizwa, special advisor to RIKEN, and will share the results of its own rigorous experiments with researchers outside of RIKEN.

The president of RIKEN also issued a statement, as did the director of the institute’s Center for Developmental Biology.

Some of the authors of the Nature papers corrected a 2011 study last month. And one co-author has already requested retraction of the newer studies.

We wrote our most recent Lab Times column — titled “Here We Go Again” — on the incident. The column was filed several weeks ago, before many recent developments.

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11 thoughts on “RIKEN finds two “instances of research misconduct” in STAP stem cell work”

  1. RIKEN appears to be commited to unambigiously figuring out if STAP is real ir not. NASA Astrobiology, I hope you are taking notes.

      1. Why is it that other cases of duplication (partial or full), are not being covered by the Japanese media? Why is it that the professors who have self-plagiarized their own work not been made to bow deeply in front of the cameras? Why is it that the Japanese media has focused exclusively on this case, sparking headlines for weeks, if not months? Does this make several other professors accross public universities in Japan “more ethical” than Haruko Obokata? Why is it that the heads of department, the “ethics” panels and the deans of the faculties in which professors have clear cases of retractions and/or duplications not stepping forward to announce reform and special panels to investigate misconduct? On April 1, in a statement that was anything but an April fool’s joke, Obokata states, emphatically “I cannot accept the committee’s findings, which unilaterally [accused me of] tampering and fabrication.”*, suggesting that someone may have been (or is being) thrown under the bus to save another’s face. This story at RW is a good chance for any researcher that has detected any fabrication, duplication, retraction or any other act of apparent, or proved, misconduct, to post their findings here, so that there is a focused list of misconduct and/or cases that merit greater attention by the Japanese media. If this story on RW could attract greater attention to misconduct by Japanese researchers in a wider span of research fields, then maybe MEXT might start to actually investigate the REAL state of research and publishing misconduct that appears to be taking place in Japan.
        * http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-japanese-lab-cites-misconduct-in-stap-cell-controversy-20140331,0,5219629.story?track=rss

    1. Mmmm – or when Inmarsat are going to retract their claims about using the Doppler effect to locate MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean?

      If you can put objects into orbit then the rules that us common plods have to abide by don’t apply, I’m afraid.

  2. “the perspective of the inherent problems that led to the current case of misconduct”

    some tips for the start: publish or perish, impact factor, impact factor-dependent funding, impact-factor as a measure for quality of published work…. there are a lot of finds, which may leads to irregularities or misconduct….

    1. The suggestion is interesting, but many publically funded institutes in Japan do not have a cash-for-iF incentive scheme, which makes one wonder, why be involved in misconduct (until 2014) if there were no financial kick-backs (e.g., grants, salary raises, better positions)? As part of the listing I have called for above, it would also be useful if a comprehensive list of Japanese universities and research institutes that use a cash-or-grant-for-impact factor scheme to reward their scientists. That would then fortify your hypothesis. I forgot to mention two aspects above: 1) inappropriate authorship; 2) plagiarism in theses (MSc and PhD). These cases also need to be listed. Unfortunately, too many Japanese scientists are shy about their English, and would be afraid to report what they know here on RW. So, the efforts perhaps need to stem from the international community first, who would then encourage Japanese scientists to step forward and report what they know. I, too, wonder where it will go…

  3. Here’s a couple more links:

    Dr Lee is still working on replication trials for the STAP cells, and is live-blogging it on Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259984904_Stimulus-triggered_fate_conversion_of_somatic_cells_into_pluripotency/reviews/103

    And, here’s Dr. Knoepfler’s- a professor at UC Davis who does stem cell research- latest post: http://www.ipscell.com/2014/04/riken-report-is-virtual-acid-bath-of-criticism-for-obokata-whats-next/

  4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2600362/Japan-stem-cell-researcher-says-results-valid.html

    “A Japanese scientist who published a paper claiming ordinary cells could be turned into stem cells by bathing them in acid has today been forced to apologise after she was accused of falsifying data.

    Haruko Obokata, 30, choked back tears during a televised news conference packed with hundreds of reporters, but insisted she did not tamper with the data to fabricate results.”

    Is the scientist in question innocent or will she admit wrongdoing?

    Did she work alone, and if not, why is she taking responsibility?
    “However, it held Obokata solely responsible for fabricating information and other mistakes in the data”

    Where are the senior scientists who brought in the grants/took the limelight with ethical responsibility to help this young lady?

  5. Japan Researcher Obokata of Riken Fails to Replicate STAP Cells by Nov. Deadline

    According to JiJi press Japan, RIKEN will have a press release on Dec 19 (Japanese time).

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