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More Troubles For Authors of Controversial Acid-Bath Stem Cell Articles 99

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the all-the-great-ideas-are-lies dept.
bmahersciwriter writes "Reports early this year about a strikingly simple method for deriving pluripotent stem cells were met with amazement and deep skepticism, then claims that the experiments were not reproducible, then accusations of copied and manipulated figures. Now, the first author of one of the papers is being lambasted for having copied the first 20 pages of her doctoral thesis from an NIH primer on stem cells. And an adviser on her thesis committee says he was never asked to review it. Could this get any stranger? Probably!"
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More Troubles For Authors of Controversial Acid-Bath Stem Cell Articles

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  • by multimediavt (965608) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:34AM (#46523639)
    When there is obvious chicanery involved and the experiments aren't reproducible, that is not science. Why does this story of science fiction get a science tag? It's not science if it's fake, folks. That's called fraud.
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:51AM (#46523761)

      When there is obvious chicanery involved and the experiments aren't reproducible, that is not science. Why does this story of science fiction get a science tag? It's not science if it's fake, folks. That's called fraud.

      Because the fraud - if it was - was done in the name of science.

      As a person of science, I am both angered by the apparent fraud, and very pleased that other scientists are going after the perps.

      This is the system working, and it is working well.

      Cold fusion, Piltdown man, recent anti-AGW work by shill organizations, and this. All frauds, all exposed.

      In a science based system, with worldwide research, the truth will out itself.

      • The system is working to some extent, yes, it catches obvious fraud. I fear there are many more frauds that are not caught and lead to unreproducible results. I would not claim based on these catches that the system is "working well."
        • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

          The system is working to some extent, yes, it catches obvious fraud. I fear there are many more frauds that are not caught and lead to unreproducible results. I would not claim based on these catches that the system is "working well."

          Upon what do you base your fears?

          • The Economist published an article last fall: Unreliable Research: Trouble at the Lab [economist.com] discussing that scientists may be looking at the wrong questions, and that well respected work may not be reproducible. I work at a university and to some extent, the new grad students reproduce the results that the senior grad students found en route to learning how to use the equipment, but it's not always that way.
        • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @11:08AM (#46524353) Journal

          No, it's still working well.

          If the fraud is in some boring, uninteresting area that never gets noticed, then it doesn't matter because it affects no one. If work is of interest to anyone else, it will get tested and eventually the truth will come out. If pointless work of interest to no one is never found out then ultimately it does not have much effect.

          I'm not claiming the system is perfect, far from it, but the current one does a good enough job on getting to the truth of things that matter. What it does mean is you have to take obscure articles in obscure areas with a huge grain of salt. You have to do that anyway: even without fraud, many mistakes, biases in data, etc happen.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            " then it doesn't matter because it affects no one."
            I wold of said:
            " then it doesn't matter because it affects no one at the moment."

            Say someone lied or made a mistake about a result based on an assumption. They could stop a whole field of research.

            • Say someone lied or made a mistake about a result based on an assumption. They could stop a whole field of research.

              No, I disagree. There is no finalk word ever. If it "solves" the field and people try to make use of the result, they will find it is wrong and the truth will come out.

              The thing is negative results don't get published, so there's never a fake "this doesn't work so don't bother" paper.

          • I'm not sure that posting in prominent journals is quite the panacea you believe it is: there are still far more articles posted each year in Nature and Science than could be tested and verified by competent researchers. And surely you do not suggest we discount all science published in "obscure" areas? The science is not obscure to the ones who study it.
          • If the fraud is in some boring, uninteresting area that never gets noticed, then it doesn't matter because it affects no one.

            Whoa, brakes! That's the victimless crime argument and there is no such thing. That's like saying if I steal apples from an orchard and nobody notices there is no crime. Bullshit. You're still committing a crime whether you get caught or not. It's ok if someone personally benefits from fraud in your world as long as it "affects no one"? Wrong. It affects the whole of the scientific community when someone publishes false results. It in fact affects everyone.

      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        Now if they would only go after the fraud that spawned the birth of a billion dollar industry in eye-glasses.
        • .. and it's a good thing they've debunked all that global warming nonsense! (Joking! No really, not trolling.. it's a joke dear moderators.)

          OK, now back to marketing my new cold fusion products. You can make them in your kitchen actually. I made $2794 last month marketing them online! Damn, you all are a lousy audience.. don't forget to tip your server.

      • You neglected the fabrications of the pro-AGW factions.
        • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:50AM (#46524193)
          Oh yes, I also forgot about the proof that Noah's Ark took place exactly as described in the Bible.

          Give me the publicantions and research where Pro-AGW factions engaged in scientific fraud.

          Since you said it, you must know the exact citations. Show the exact fraud.

          Right?

          • Give me the publicantions (sic) and research where Pro-AGW factions engaged in scientific fraud.

            Well, this [theguardian.com] comes to mind. Why cover up the data? Maybe he was cleared of all wrong-doing, but this was one of the first hits when I searched for "Global Warming Fraud".

            • by hawkfish (8978) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:09PM (#46525813) Homepage

              Give me the publicantions (sic) and research where Pro-AGW factions engaged in scientific fraud.

              Well, this [theguardian.com] comes to mind. Why cover up the data? Maybe he was cleared of all wrong-doing, but this was one of the first hits when I searched for "Global Warming Fraud".

              You typed something into Google and got hits. Wow, now that is deep research! Did you notice that at the top of your link was this [theguardian.com]?

              • by narcc (412956)

                "You did a google search, therefore, you're wrong!" "You liked to a Guardian article, therefore, you're wrong!"

                • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                  "You did a google search, therefore, you're wrong!" "You liked to a Guardian article, therefore, you're wrong!"

                  I guess that was sarcastic, so I'll reply as if it is.

                  Wrong? maybe. Lazy? Oh, most certainly. If that is all a person can come up with as proof of fraud, then what of the Retractionwatch website? All kinds of retractions of papers, for all kinds of reasons, including pro global warming papers.

                  But the matter of whether it measures up as fraud by the Guardian paper report is almost totally dependent upon a person's pro or anti AGW stance.

                  Read retraction watch, and then decide.

            • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

              Give me the publicantions (sic) and research where Pro-AGW factions engaged in scientific fraud.

              Well, this [theguardian.com] comes to mind. Why cover up the data? Maybe he was cleared of all wrong-doing, but this was one of the first hits when I searched for "Global Warming Fraud".

              Okay, I read the report, and personally if that is fraud, then most everything is.

              It boils down to a researcher was worried about some of the data. Then he was reluctant to release some of the data to a climate change "skeptic".

              Okay, I hope that what you not are saying that this incident completely disproves AGW?

              You need to go here. http://retractionwatch.com/ [retractionwatch.com] Lots and lots of retractions. And they have real ones, not just the ones that the press and the deniers orgasm over.

              But there is a reason

          • Removing data points that did not fit their model, apply transformations to the data points that are not uniform across the entire dataset, using a filter that generates the same output even if the input was noise. Need I go on?

            As for Noah's Ark... that legend is enshrined in several mythologies including the Epic of Gilgamesh. There is also proof that there was substantial flooding in the area between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates so it could have well been one of those events. So the whole world didn't

            • by hawkfish (8978)

              Removing data points that did not fit their model, apply transformations to the data points that are not uniform across the entire dataset, using a filter that generates the same output even if the input was noise. Need I go on?

              Yes, because you are repeating hearsay. The GP requested citations. You have provided nothing.

              • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                Removing data points that did not fit their model, apply transformations to the data points that are not uniform across the entire dataset, using a filter that generates the same output even if the input was noise. Need I go on?

                Yes, because you are repeating hearsay. The GP requested citations. You have provided nothing.

                As the GP, I never expect any, because there isn't that much.

                I could point out that there has been some suspect or even bad work on AGW. They might cite the study performed by a group in Argentina - The Universal Ecological Fund - was so bad and actually quite preposterous claiming that the planet would warm by 2.4 C - round 4.3 F. Interestingly enough, also from the Guardian.

                http://www.theguardian.com/env... [theguardian.com]

                Scientists were all over this study as just plain bad.

                And most surprising that the denier

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by geekoid (135745)

              "Removing data points that did not fit their model"
              False.

              ", apply transformations to the data points that are not uniform across the entire dataset"
              false.

              " using a filter that generates the same output even if the input was noise."
              false.

              " Need I go on?"
              Why, do you have actual data?

              You know grabbing onto one headline, and then not following up on what happens and using the one deadline as some sort of proof only shows the worled you are an idiot.

              As it turns out, it was a lot of nothing stirred up by Fox and

            • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

              Removing data points that did not fit their model, apply transformations to the data points that are not uniform across the entire dataset, using a filter that generates the same output even if the input was noise. Need I go on?

              Yes. Who did it, and where are the papers? You folks make the accusations of fraud - I ask for specifics, and get exactly........ none.

              If you cannot name the papers it is because you don't know the papers.

              As for Noah's Ark... that legend is enshrined in several mythologies including the Epic of Gilgamesh. There is also proof that there was substantial flooding in the area between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates so it could have well been one of those events.

              I was raised in a strict Catholic househole with even stricter Baptist Grandparents. They deny what you say. The story of Noah's ark is the written words of God, and the biblical truth is eternal and unchanging. Seriously - they belive that and with great faith.

              People used to think Schliemann was nuts too then he found the ruins of Troy at Hisarlik.

              You do realize that argument can be used against you. You and your ilk think that AGW scientists are frauds and perhaps crazy. People, you know, people.

      • The new genius is going to be separating Fact from Falsehood from Opinion.... Facts are shared absolutely. Falsehood is downplayed, and Opinion is held personal. Now... Legislation should be based on Only one... Facts .. shared realities ! Guidance can be offered for opnions?
      • As a scientist you seem naive to the personal gains from the work that is done. This "scientist" fraudulently published results and gained public and private research dollars for it. That's a crime not science. You don't have to be a scientist to do good science but you do have to rigorously follow the scientific method. Clearly, the "scientist" in question needs to go back to school and learn that. Perhaps jail time will afford them the opportunity, because taking hundreds of thousands if not millions of d
    • by GloomE (695185)
      Not reproducible? Of course not! The experiment doesn't work without a cold fusion power supply.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:03AM (#46523835)

      The original paper claimed that you could use any cell to get the special property that the embryonic researchers keep insisting is the reason they should keep getting the majority of the stem cell funding. Because the original claim would make stem cell research easier, multiple sets of grad students were assigned to replicate the results and bring in the new strains of research-grade stem cells. Only because every group of such grad students failed to reproduce the results has anyone started reading deeper.

      The fact that this 'test and debunk' response is so rare is a serious problem. The problem has many factors feeding it, such as the 'publish or perish' dogma in research schools as well as the 'I'm a researcher, not a lecturer' mindset of enough university professors. Even if that Stanford Institute of Actually Testing Things stays pure to its goal and unaffected by politics (inter-university politics are my biggest concern, but any politicking will be a problem), it will not be able to make a significant dent in the massive pile of worthless 'discoveries' that have no basis in reality. Every school needs a retesting group.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:28AM (#46524007)
      Because "chicanery" is not an absolute for one. I had to look up the definition "the use of trickery to achieve a political, financial, or legal purpose." You could argue that plagarizing text is trickery to get a thesis out and finished, sure. However, if Waseda is anything like my graduate school, background text on things like stem cells were of nearly zero importance. It doesn't sound like she faked any results in her thesis, which is the only part anyone cares about.

      Here was my recipie for my thesis, approved by my thesis adviser and committee: Take two papers you've already published, staple them together. Write up a third part in case I hire someone to finish the stuff you didn't. Get signatures, the end.

      Theses are treated with great esteem in other graduate programs. In science, or at least biology, no one gives a shit about them. My thesis adviser heavily scrutinized the two papers making up the main part of my thesis, they got peer reviewed, but the third part probably got skimmed only by my thesis adviser. Everyone else likely didn't even open the document aside from signing it.

      This is not to say "plagiarism doesn't matter," or that it shouldn't be punished, just that labeling the STAP cells as bogus because of that is an overreaction. It should and IS factoring into skepticism about the results, and it should be and is a black mark on Obokata.

      As far as reproducible, it's still early. It's only a few months old. The Knopfler blog [ipscell.com] is keeping track of some efforts that have failed, but if I recall, it took a year for induced pluripotent stem cells to be reproduced. The detailed protocol was released only two weeks ago [nature.com].

      At this point, you can conclude that Obokata should face consequences for plagiarism in her thesis, and that the "easy pluripotent stem cells" headlines were misleading. You can also conclude that more skepticism and scrutiny is merited, though skepticism should be and already was high given how important it is. It's far too early to conclude that it's outright fraud or not science. I've been somewhat following the controversy, there's no smoking gun on the actual science yet.

      Lastly, remember that these are scientists, not PR experts, politicians, or celebrities. Obokata went into hiding after this blew up, I think people smelled blood in the water from that and assumed something fishy was up and not, say, that she was overwhelmed.
      • by BobMcD (601576)

        Large parts of science are actually a cult/religion built up by the community, and discrediting one's findings by looking for plagiarism in a thesis is a symptom of that. If this were science for science's sake, your past would be completely irrelevant. Your pedigree would neither help nor harm you. Only your science would matter, and it would only matter when someone was able to reproduce your findings.

        Instead we have a world where you can publish an article containing only gibberish. And not just once

      • by plopez (54068)

        Sloppy thesis. My thesis had to pass review of my entire committee. They would not sign it until they had a chance to read it. I had to go through several edit cycels *after* I had been through a number of cycles by my primary adviser. Maybe I picked a hard committee, but an adviser or committee member who puts their name to sloppy research is damaging their credibility. At the time I thought it was torture, but now I appreciate the fact they wanted me to produce good research properly written up. Any advis

        • Sloppy thesis. My thesis had to pass review of my entire committee. They would not sign it until they had a chance to read it. I had to go through several edit cycels *after* I had been through a number of cycles by my primary adviser. Maybe I picked a hard committee, but an adviser or committee member who puts their name to sloppy research is damaging their credibility. At the time I thought it was torture, but now I appreciate the fact they wanted me to produce good research properly written up. Any adviser or committee who does otherwise is cheating the student out of an education.

          You didn't pick a hard committee. You studied in a department that cared about the grad students they were sending into the world. The "Insightful" guy above obviously didn't.

      • Because "chicanery" is not an absolute for one. I had to look up the definition "the use of trickery to achieve a political, financial, or legal purpose." You could argue that plagarizing text is trickery to get a thesis out and finished, sure. However, if Waseda is anything like my graduate school, background text on things like stem cells were of nearly zero importance. It doesn't sound like she faked any results in her thesis, which is the only part anyone cares about.

        That's about right in CS as well. Sure you shouldn't out right plagiarise the introduction to your thesis, i.e. not cite and quote, but if you write something along the lines of "this presentation lends heavily on bla, bla and bla" and then summarise in your own words, nobody's going to get their knickers all in a twist. Not even a little bit.

        It's your work that's important, and you better not have plagiarised that. But what comes in the introduction, i.e. background for the layperson (counting people in t

      • Because "chicanery" is not an absolute for one. I had to look up the definition

        What did you think it was, a vegetable?

        It's not exactly an obscure word.

      • Ok, you obviously know very little about how academia works. If a researcher publishes something, they get credit for it and gain personally in many ways. They may receive an advanced degree and go out to a high paying job. They may gain greater academic standing by being promoted which brings money in the form of increased research and salary dollars. If that information is false then they personally gained by trickery and/or deceit. That's a crime. That's fraud and NOT SCIENCE.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Because it points to how little we can trust a lot of science because it's not being done by honest players.

      It's also why a lot of people neither understand nor trust science any more, because a lot of it is fraudulent -- or at least enough of it to undermine confidence in it.

      If the first 20 pages of your thesis have been cribbed from something else and nobody noticed it (and apparently never got reviewed by her own advisers) then academia and science has some big problems.

      If high school students get their

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If a piece of technology fails spectacularly, that's still Technology News.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When there is obvious chicanery involved and the experiments aren't reproducible, that is not science.

      So anthropogenic global warming isn't science??

    • How the hell did they think they'd get away with lying about something that, if true, would be world-changing?
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Because it's happening in the science field. Science is the proper tag.

  • ... it probably is too good to be true.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:45AM (#46523715) Journal

    Plagiarize,
    Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
    So don't shade your eyes,
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize...
    Only be sure always to call it please, "research".

    -T. Lehrer

  • It was never strange to begin with. Also, you sound like a twat. Stop that.
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:09AM (#46523877)

    I'm perplexed at the motive behind such shennanigans. What is to be gained? Grant money? But surely that's too short-lived to be worth it. Does it just boil down to laziness on the part of someone seeking a PhD?

    I guess it's like embezzlement. You have to know, you're going to get caught eventually. There is no escaping it. But people do it anyway.

    • Re:Motive? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:20AM (#46523937)

      It could also be the pressure to publish. Lots of scientists have 'performance' goals tied directly to their number of recently published articles.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Modded parent comment up because the author is right, but wanted to add this: If you publish a paper, the chances of it being thoroughly taken apart and validated are very low - at least in the timeframe for grant application and approval. If a paper gets disproven once the funding is half-spent: big deal. If it gets taken apart years later (I'm looking at Andrew Wakefield and William McBride here) - big deal. Your career is over anyway.

        This was unusual in that it was taken apart so quickly. Suggests to

    • Re:Motive? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Marco Tedaldi (3390641) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:25AM (#46523977)
      The Motive is clear: In today science landscape it's "publish or perish". And if you get published in Science, you're a big star. There are many many papers out there that are using fake data, plagiarizing stuff and so on. It's a game. If you get published, you have won the first round. Maybe someone is able to reproduce the work with some minor tweaks. Than, you're the hero and someone else did your work. And there is still the chance, that no one notices because they are ashamed, because they are ashamed, that they have not been able to reproduce your work. I boldly state that 5% to 10% of published results are not "clean" in one way or another! Only a small percentage of these papers will ever be found. And even after papers are found to be "flawed", sometimes the publisher does not retract it. And even retracted papers still collect citations. The scientific publication system is heavily messed up and play into the hands of a few big publishing houses and some crooks!
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Publishing also include experiments that fail.
        In science, the second paper is the most important.

    • by Minwee (522556)

      I guess it's like embezzlement. You have to know, you're going to get caught eventually. There is no escaping it. But people do it anyway.

      Let's step back and look at your logic for a moment. "I hear about a lot of people who have plagiarized. If I heard about them, then they must have done it. But every single person I hear about has gotten caught. Therefore, every person who has done it gets caught."

      a) Where is the flaw in this argument (2 points)

      b) With that in mind, what do you know about the number of plagiarists who are not caught? (3 points)

      c) If the person sitting next to you hands in the same answer to this question, what does t

      • by wcrowe (94389)

        Moot questions. I wasn't talking about the plagiarism. I was talking about publishing results that cannot be duplicated.

    • by quantaman (517394)

      She probably wanted a job.

      There's a lot more PhDs than academic jobs out there. A dissertation that doesn't add much probably leaves her working somewhere in industry or doing endless postdocs. On the other hand if she gets a couple big publications in Nature she's got a shot at an assistant professorship. Maybe some other groups find some tweaks to make the method work and she's the pioneer of a new field, or maybe everyone forgets about it but she still has a shot at making tenure. Or she was just trying

    • by cusco (717999)

      I'm wondering if the issue isn't poor documentation or unrealized interactions that actually made the original attempt succeed, but all subsequent attempts fail. If University A uses Acme brand petri dishes with microscopic ripples on the bottom and University B uses Corning Dow brand petri dishes with perfectly smooth bottoms then Uni B could fail if the ripples were necessary for some reason. It was over a decade until the US Navy was able to reproduce the original 'cold fusion' results consistently, be

  • by DeathToBill (601486) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:17AM (#46523917) Journal

    I dunno; put it in an acid bath and see what happens.

  • I just can't imagine being dumb enough to do this. Firstly, you KNOW you plagiarized extensively, then you fake a GROUND BREAKING paper, and expect for people NOT to find out? I mean, I have some reservations about the validity and ultimate reproducibility of most academic science, but at least the frauds seem to produce papers about sexual habits of Argentinian tree frogs (really riveting stuff). Did this person really expect not to get caught when writing about the holy grail of stem cell research? Or

    • Exactly. Unless it's an experiment to see how well peer review works, putting it in Nature is pretty stupid. You're pretty much guaranteeing that people will try to reproduce your work and you'll be exposed. You can probably get away with it if you put it in a less prestigious journal, but if people start citing it then there's a good chance that someone will try to reproduce it, especially when the novelty of the article is that it's an easy way of doing a thing that loads of people want to do. And if
      • by iksbob (947407)

        Which makes it all the stranger. High-profile area of research, likely to be checked, major journal... It's like a checklist of ways to get caught. The tinfoil hat region of my brain makes me wonder if the research is genuine, but other researchers are refuting it out of fear that the funding for their own research will be cut. After all, who needs an expensive, complex (and patented) method of creating stem cells when a cheap and easy solution produces similar (or superior) results?

        • by geekoid (135745)

          " After all, who needs an expensive, complex (and patented) method of creating stem cells when a cheap and easy solution produces similar (or superior) results?"
          every other company, person,country that doesn't hold the patent.

          If you have an expensive patent, why would I cover up research that would mean I could stop paying you money for licensing?

        • by gregor-e (136142)
          So it must be time to crank up the conspiracy theories.
          Which is more (un)likely:
          1. Someone would attempt to perpetrate such a huge and obvious falsehood
          2. Vested powers, on hearing their castle is about to crumble, vigorously attempt to discredit the new theory
          3. Big money who is outside the potential profit sphere of this discovery is attempting to delay it long enough to get a slight variation patented
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Your one is clearly an idiot, but an idiot that grew too confident of her own deceiving ways.

    Fraud is rampant in academia for a number of reasons: grants, status, promotions, more grants But give it enough time and the truth eventually surface. Did you forget Jan Hendrik Schön [wikipedia.org]? Sure there a many others, Ministers, head of AIDS research groups, you name it

    Unfortunately the people that should protect the system (or who are responsible for the system), the gate keepers, they are also milking it. A n

  • The summary answered it's own question for once!

  • If someone published something that would upset the applecart so to speak, what better way to discredit and marginalize their efforts than to cast aspersions and draw attention away from the actual science and off to some scandalous allegation. Has anyone bothered to double check the accusations yet? A method of creating pluripotent stem cells like this could seriously derail research already underway and redundant if it were true, and that sounds like a very strong motive to call into question the origin

    • by geekoid (135745)

      See, it's weak thinkers like you self that get caught up in conspiracy nonsense and the spread it like a plague.

      "A method of creating pluripotent stem cells like this could seriously derail research already underway"

      So? that happens in science pretty often.

      " and redundant if it were true"
      nope. Just becasue they found one way, it would be years before it could be practical, and other avenues of research could also reveal better results.

      You overlook the much more money, and many more people, who would benefit

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