Obokata agrees to retract both STAP stem cell papers: Report

nature 4 9 14Last month we wrote that Haruko Obokata, the Japanese stem cell researcher whose work is under a cloud of suspicion, had agreed to call for the retraction of one of two disputed Nature papers about her findings. Now Reuters is reporting that Obokata will ask for the second article to be pulled, as well (one of the articles was a research letter).

According to the Reuters account:

After staunchly defending her work in a rare, months-long public feud with the prominent Riken institute she works for, Haruko Obokata “has now agreed to a retraction” of the papers, a spokesman for the semi-governmental institute told Reuters on Wednesday.

One of the co-authors of the articles, which came out in January, already has requested that both papers be retracted. So far, Nature has yet to remove either article.

Obokata was part of a team that in March corrected its 2011 paper in Tissue Engineering Part A about STAP stem cells:

In our paper entitled; “The Potential of Stem Cells in Adult Tissues Representative of the Three Germ Layers”, published in the journal, Part A Volume 17, Numbers 5 and 6, 2011, some errors have been identified in the figures published. Some very similar appearing PCR bands displayed in Figure 3, are incorrectly placed or redundantly used, either within Figure 3 or between Figures 2 and 3. … The remaining data and the conclusion are unchanged.

Some criticized that notice for being, well, unsatisfactory.

The Japan Times also is reporting that Obokata has agreed to help conduct additional experiments to see if STAP stem cells are real.

On Monday, the chairman of an outside panel to Riken said it is arranging to call on the lab to have the 30-year-old scientist participate in its experiment.

The panel chairman, Teruo Kishi, said the move is needed in order to determine whether STAP, or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells, exist or not.

If the new experiment is unable to reproduce STAP cells using the same method outlined in Obokata’s controversial paper, then it should be considered that they do not exist, Kishi said.

8 thoughts on “Obokata agrees to retract both STAP stem cell papers: Report”

    1. Dr. Liu, you make an interesting point and one which few scientists and publishers are failing (or ignoring) to discuss, and one which I frequently try to raise awareness about, albeit unsuccessfully. This is the isse of penalties for publishers who are harboring studies with bad analyses, fake results, or other academic misconduct. One could say that if the misconduct originated from the authors, then the publisher can defend itself and say that profits were being made out of ignorance of the “fraud” being committed by the authors. But if the peer review system by that publisher failed in its objective to identify the “frauds” or misconduct, even though that is one key objective of the peer review system, and the editor board has also failed the quality control it has promised the scientific community, then I say, penalize the publisher, for being sloppy and irresponsible. Possibly even greedy. Now that we have a sizeable retraction sample size, someone neds to analyze which publishers are still “selling” at XYZ euros per PDF, faulty science, and which publishers are selling PDFs of retracted papers, or retraction notices. These are the sick cases in science publishing, and must be called out, as equally as the authors/scientists who are involved in misconduct. The current playing field is grossly imbalanced, with excessive criticism of the scientists, and not enough criticism of the publishers, the peer review system, the capitalistic infrastructure driving science publishing, especially OA, and the political influences on science and education that drive the whole machine.

  1. There is more than one author on the papers, indeed, more than two. So more than one person involved in the experiments in some way. Surely, given the amazing results, the lab would have had lots of projects refocus on the new method, well before publication. Then there are collaborating labs. All authors were more than happy to add the papers to their CVs, no questions asked.
    No public pronouncements have explained how this actually happened beyond pointing the finger at Obokata for faking data. I find it impossible to understand how, without implicating at least some of the co-authors as deeply as Obokata the papers could have been sent out for review. So the very reasonable conclusion is that the problem extends well beyond Obokata.

  2. It’s official, from the land of the rising sun: Obokata failed to produce STAP cells:
    So, as I see it:
    a) confirmed failed technique, for which millions of yen were wasted, not to mention on chemicals, hotels, airplane tickets, and possibly also international meetings;
    b) two papers were retracted, so the literature has been partly corrected.
    c) Obokata now needs to contact the editors of all journals where her team’s miracle papers were cited, to request an erratum;
    d) Obokata should be forced to return wasted funds to RIKEN, or to the Japanese tax-payers. RIKEN, too, needs to return any funds it received from private or public donors, for this research project.
    e) Obokata should serve community service for at least a year, for example, training young scientists in lab techniques.
    f) Finally, despite this tragic end (Sasai + negative results not reproduced), she deserves a second chance because she lived up to her promise: she indicated a deadline by which repetitions would be complete, she was under constant stressful surveilance, and she delivered on her promise (even if she did not deliver on her results). I am of the opinion that the research community can still benefit positively from her, but only after she has corrected the downstream literature, paid back squandered funds, and served some comunity time (as I feel).

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