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Biotech Japan Science

Key Researcher Agrees To Retract Disputed Stem Cell Papers 61

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the so-much-for-that dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "After several months of fiercely defending her discovery of a new, simple way to create pluripotent stem cells, Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, has agreed to retract the two Nature papers that reported her work. Satoru Kagaya, head of public relations for RIKEN, headquartered in Wako near Tokyo, confirmed press reports today that Obokata had finally agreed to retract both papers. He said the institute would be notifying Nature and that the decision to formally retract the papers would be up to the journal."
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Key Researcher Agrees To Retract Disputed Stem Cell Papers

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  • Fabricated results (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kruach aum (1934852) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @12:37PM (#47165829)

    Another article I read about this mentioned that she confessed to fabricating "at least some results". Now, there are various reasons why a researcher would fabricate results, from the pressure to publish to just literally being evil, but in this case how would she ever expect to get away with it? This is not like a paper in my sub-field, which if I'm lucky five people will ever read. EVERYONE wants pluripotent stem cells, so of course a simple method to create them is going to be tested and replicated over and over and over.

    • I haven't read the paper nor do I have the expertise to really comment on the technicality of it, but it could be that they knew the method worked, but didn't reproduce it enough for it to be real solid and scientifically valid. And with budget/time constraints it could have gone quite simply as just fabricating data to push it out faster.

      • by Stem_Cell_Brad (1847248) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @01:04PM (#47166071)

        I think this is the explanation. The lead author convinced herself that the procedure worked. Apparently, she was rather easily convinced by her own ideas. In order to convince other scientists, she had to fabricate some results. Those fabricated results enabled publication of the papers through peer review.

        The whole thing stinks. Let's say there is some merit to making pluripotent cells by stressing them with acid. Well, by lying about some of her results, the lead author essentially poisoned the whole area of research. She has made it difficult to now work on this topic because it will be overly scrutinized by any reviewer. Let say the whole idea is bogus. The lead author wasted time and energy of researchers around the world who are interested in this process.

        Although this may be obvious. The lesson is just never make up data. It is so myopic to think that you will benefit in any REAL way.

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @12:52PM (#47165961)

      Publish or Parish, is the motto for researchers.
      In a field where everyone wants your data, that means there are a lot of people working on it.
      So people may fabricate their results to what they feel would be the expected results, as a gamble, if it works they are first and they are the hero and they get a lot of money and fame. If they fail their story gets retracted, they find a way to point the finger at someone else and suffer some shame until people forget.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Outside of Louisiana, we just call them counties.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Publish or Parish? Is that the practice by which failed academics become Christian ministers?

      • by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @01:39PM (#47166377)

        Publish or Parish, is the motto for researchers.

        Somehow, I'm not sure priesthood would be the alternate profession of choice for out-of-work scientists.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by ericloewe (2129490)

          I don't know, if they're out of work because their faith in their theories was strong enough to make them falsify data, they might be good candidates for priests.

    • You're asuming it went something like "I'll make this stuff up and no-one will know!"

      I doubt that's what happened. Most lies start very innocently. For example:

      When I was much younger and dumber... a freshman in my FIRST attempt at college... I had... some class... probably biology or something. We were put into groups of about 5 students each. We were supposed to come up with experiments and provide a result. Well, we were going to grow beansprouts under different condition and report on the best way to gr

      • by geekoid (135745)

        That wasn't a while lie by a long shot.

        And this could have jut been a mistake in the methodology, no lie needed. OR simple a mistake.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      In the biomedical research field, everybody fabricates results. Or selects them. Or fails to do the research properly and contaminates the experiment. That's why so few experiments are easily reproduced, and a good chunk of published literature eventually gets refuted, or at the very least, refined. The only thing is that scientists don't attempt to reproduce most experiments. So nobody really knows for sure what's real and what's not.

      There's pressure to publish, but there's also pressure to selectively pub

      • "In the biomedical research field, everybody fabricates results."

        A nice anecdote. Do you have any data to back that up?

      • by David Jao (2759)
        The Wikipedia article contains zero mention of any controversy surrounding whether or not Dolly is a real clone: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        Where is your evidence that Dolly is not a real clone? If Wikipedia doesn't mention the allegation, it's not even a conspiracy theory.

    • by hackus (159037)

      Fabrication typically happens in a lab that just needs more money to get the results previously published.So sometimes, fabricated of the expected results will happen so that more money can be obtained.

      Then of course it is a race against time to get the results you got the money for...sometimes that doesn't work out.

      But, I have seen that happen many times with science research. Most of the time it works out, but sometimes it doesn't.

  • HAY! Haruko san; you've got a good idea, just go back to the lab and finish it.

    If Haruko were a guy, I'd say, "get your head, out of your ass, and FINISH." Girls react differently than guys.
  • I'm sure the anti-science crowd will try to point to this as an example of corruption in science but this is really an example of science working the way that it is supposed to. Scientist reports results, other scientists try to reproduce the results and if they can't then they start crying foul.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is an example of corruption in science. This was a high profile paper. Now everything she's ever published is suspect. If she had the balls to do this on a discovery of this magnitude, just think of all the "little white lies" in less prolific papers not just by her but by others. It's epidemic, especially in Asian countries.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I think we're confused by the exact semantics, because neither of you is particularly wrong.

        This is an example of corruption in the scientific _community_.

        This is an example supporting the way science outs truth, supporting the scientific _method_.

        Re: point two, though, it sounds like she cut corners or fuzzed details more than deliberately skimped or lied; it's wrong but not malicious.

        -AC.Falos

    • Since others have tried and failed to duplicate the results specified in the paper, it seems that the only way to really resolve this is to have Obokata-san duplicate her experiment. The process should be closely monitored so that there is no question about fabricated data and no chance the process is sabotaged by someone else.

      Part of me is still holding out hope that there is some truth to the paper's overall result - if only because here was someone who could have been a great inspiration for kids (par
      • Part of me is still holding out hope that there is some truth to the paper's overall result - if only because here was someone who could have been a great inspiration for kids (particularly girls) to get into science

        What the fuck does her gender have to do with anything?
        Look girls, this woman, one out of billions, became a successful scientist! You can, too, if you're extremely lucky and you really try! Don't you want to be a scientist now? You want to be a scientist, right??

        Further, what the fuck would her success have to do with kids in general?
        Look kids, this adult, one out of billions, became a successful scientist! You can, too, if you're extremely lucky and you really try! Don't you want to be a scientist no

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          Exactly.
        • I completely agree that children will choose their own role models or choose how they are inspired by others. I never said otherwise.

          How do they find role models - either real or fictional? Often is it through the media: movies, television, magazines, newspapers, radio, whatever. Making a major scientific announcement will get you media attention (whether you want it or not) and make you a potential role model (again whether you want it or not). The child will choose.

          With regard to Obokata-san, she be
    • Whether someone is anti-science or not, pointing out corruption in the field of science is a good thing. Corruption wastes time, money, and can hurt people.

      The same thing can be said of gross errors that drastically change results.

      It is a reasonable example of science working. I say reasonable because it wasn't initially a lack of duplication of results that sparked concern, it was alleged plagiarism and image manipulation.

      It's a pity all research results weren't required to be duplicated by an independent

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @01:05PM (#47166077)

    "The science of the two papers was rigorously, robustly peer-reviewed as part of our usual editorial procedures. Any inaccuracies in the presentation of data that may have come to light since the peer review are being investigated," the Nature representative wrote. "We are always looking for ways to improve our processes to best serve the community and will continue to do so going forward."

    And this is Nature fer chrissakes; not the Journal of Homeopathic Chiropractic Aroma Therapy and Crystal Meditation.

    • Do you know understand publication and peer review?
      Nature peer review means that the data and methodology looked good and rigorous.
      If they laid about the data, or some methodology it's very hard to know that unless if is really obvious.
      This is why publication is only the beginning of peer review. After publication other experts can look at it and try to reproduce the results. This is also why the most interesting papers are the second papers.

      • I do and supposedly experts (referees) in your field of research are suppose to review the material. Mistakes, easily identifiable, made it past them which should not have:

        "First, to take a random example, the Obokata et al. article refers to “pasture pipettes” rather than “Pasteur pipettes.” The existence of such an obvious error suggests that the nine authors, as well as the referees, editors, and copy editors were all, to put it bluntly, slackers. Some of the actions taken by t
        • by geekoid (135745)

          You're argument comes down to a spelling error? one that probably would have been there even if the data was good? They appear in papers routinely. It's not a red flag by any stretch.

          Publication seldom have actual experts in the specific area of the field reviewing papers. One of the reason why I stated that publication is the start of peer review.
          For example. they may have a geologist read a paper on magnetic pulses prior to an earth quake, but he may not be an expert in the specific area of geology. If we

          • However, we have seen here on /. literally hundreds of times people saying "have you published a peer reviewed paper on that?" as if it should end someone's argument.

            This should lay bare the bullcrap that that particular response is. Peer reviewed publication is, as you have said, only the start. Only once years of scrutiny and **reproduction of results** has happened is the hypothesis confirmed. The second part actually being the more important.

    • by sandytaru (1158959) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @01:24PM (#47166249) Journal
      If the methodology looked good and the data looked reasonable, it'd pass the initial round of peer review. They don't recreate the experiment as part of the editorial peer review, they just look for things that were overlooked or that don't make sense. It's up to other labs to reproduce the results and subsequently publish their own papers.
      • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @01:59PM (#47166515)
        The investigating panel said:

        The report also says that the experiments are so poorly documented "that it will be extremely difficult for anyone else to accurately trace or understand her experiments." In a stinging summary, the committee wrote: "Dr. Obokata's actions and sloppy data management lead us to the conclusion that she sorely lacks, not only a sense of research ethics, but also integrity and humility as a scientific researcher."

        Again, this is Nature we're talking about. Every time we get one of these situations, the apologists start up with "but peer-review wasn't meant to find that...", and yet the journals themselves are always chest-thumping about how everything they publish is infallible because it was peer-reviewed, except when it isn't, and then it's not their fault. Peer-review is just a crutch. It imparts a false sense on confidence where there shouldn't be any.

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @02:12PM (#47166595) Homepage

          Peer review is not a crutch. It is a necessary, but not sufficient check and balance. That said, the peer reviewers MAY have performed less than admirably (hey, it happens). The part that really has turned up under closer review is her methodology is awful. Peer reviewers tend to work along the assumption that the researcher knows what they are doing. That assumption appears to be incorrect (recall the first three letters of the word). Looking a detailed Materials and Methods is amazingly boring and often not even possible because editors don't want to 'waste' space in their precious journal having somebody detail where they got a reagent from or exactly how they (supposedly) did things.

          There is an increasing trend to require authors to put such details in the paper. Typically in a web based supplement (so it doesn't waste space in the precious journal). This trend has started for precisely these reasons.

          Nature is going to eat some deserved crow on this one. Fortunately, that is the time tested recipe for improvement.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          "journals themselves are always chest-thumping about how everything they publish is infallible because it was peer-reviewed, "
          name one.

          natures policy:
          http://www.nature.com/authors/... [nature.com]

          It isn't perfect, no one says its perfect, and people are involved, so tere will be mistakes. The fact that people make mistakes(intentional (fraud) or unintentional(bias)) is the foundation for the scientific method.

        • Yeah, peer review is a horrible system. The only thing it has going for it is that it is better than other method of assessing these sorts of things.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "The science of the two papers was rigorously, robustly peer-reviewed as part of our usual editorial procedures. Any inaccuracies in the presentation of data that may have come to light since the peer review are being investigated," the Nature representative wrote. "We are always looking for ways to improve our processes to best serve the community and will continue to do so going forward."

      And this is Nature fer chrissakes; not the Journal of Homeopathic Chiropractic Aroma Therapy and Crystal Meditation.

      Sigh, I'll point out what gets said it every one of these topics:

      The point of peer review isn't to uncover fraud. That's the job for follow-up studies (like we saw in this case).

      The point of peer review is to catch things like logical flaws. Do the conclusions follow from the data? Are there any obvious problems in the experimental setup? Did they mess up any math anywhere?

      Catching fraud usually requires that the experiment be repeated. The initial peer review process of the initial article doesn't (an

      • They should be catching typos, but they didn't. This points to a lax review process. There was also a conflict of interest between Nature and Riken, which was not disclosed.
        • by Xylantiel (177496)
          I'm unsure if you're serious or not.. actually it's the copyeditor's job to catch typos unless they are scientifically relevant. And if you think Nature is a journal and not a journal-like magazine, you are mistaken. TONS of stuff published in Nature turns out to be wrong or overhyped.
          • by geekoid (135745)

            Let me fix that for you:
            "TONS of stuff published turns out to be wrong or overhyped."

            Thus the scientific method

    • by ericloewe (2129490) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @02:12PM (#47166597)

      I'll have you know that the Journal of Homeopathic Chiropractic Aroma Therapy and Crystal Meditation practices peer review to the highest scientific standards.

      To increase potency of the review, 15 scientists are tasked with reviewing each article. One of their reviews is then sent to 10 000 experts, who review the review. This step is repeated a few times. Finally, the resulting review is sent to our chinese editor (who at times is too busy editing other prestigious publications like the American Chinese Traditional Medicine and Voodoo annals and thus delegates this job to his team of highly-trained monkeys) who decides whether to publish or not.

      Of course, this review cannot be questioned, otherwise it will never accurately review anything, as the trust between Journal and reviewers is broken.

    • by Xylantiel (177496)

      Um, you realize that Nature is a magazine, not a journal right? Yes they have peer review but they have a heavy vested interest in publishing exciting-but-possibly-wrong stuff, which they do all the time.

      And if results were simply fabricated, peer review can't always catch that as others have said. Though sometimes it is obvious if someone is suddenly able to do something that others have been trying to do but failed, but they can't show WHY it worked for them and not for anyone else. Sometimes quality

  • It also only looks at the data and methodology. if the data is wrong, they have no way of knowing that unless they actually do the experiment.

    • You obviously don't know know about the mistakes made in the paper which made it through the review process. Stop now you are out of your depth. Or put another way, how much is Nature paying you to defend them.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        My statement has nothing to do with Nature. It's a statement on the peer review process in general. Many people think publication is the end of peer review and that a published paper means its been fully vetted.

        Nature has over 10,000 people that volunteer. It looks like the ones that did this peer review messed up.
        IT's a hard problem. You get peer reviewers, you do your best to be sure they are good. You can't peer review there peer review so you trust them.
        That also applies to any organization that has pee

    • It also only looks at the data and methodology.

      Except they didn't look at the methodology or do a sanity-check on the data.

      From academia to congress to joining a gym, no one fucking reads or thinks - they just sign it to get it off their plate.

  • Big news in Japan (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This whole thing has been very large in Japanese media, largely due to the fact that it was initially reported as a huge discovery by a young female researcher.

    The latest article I read just now is about how she (through her lawyer) claims that she was forced to agree to this through huge pressure, that she's very sad about how it leaked out, etc.

    I don't doubt the pressure part, and I imagine that there's a lot of feelings involved for her and that she believes she's right and that s

  • I think a lot of these cases of fabricating results started relatively small and innocent. Maybe you slacked off all week and your professor is asking you for the results of that experiment you were supposed to run. Maybe you'll just make a little graph that seems reasonable, after all, you'll get those results this week for sure... Next thing you know your boss is asking for the follow up experiments and you're in over your head. The longer this go on the harder it is to come clean and you end up publishin
  • Makes no difference to me. I prefer all-natural, organic stem cells, the way God intended, not some Franken-stemer cells cooked up in a lab.

Power corrupts. And atomic power corrupts atomically.

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