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Biotech Science

Japanese Stem Cell Debacle Could Bring Down Entire Center 52

sciencehabit (1205606) writes Shutting down the research center at the heart of an unfolding scientific scandal may be necessary to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct, according to a report released at a press conference in Tokyo today. A committee reviewing conduct at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, found lax oversight and a failure on the part of senior authors of two papers in Nature outlining a surprisingly simple way of reprogramming mature cells into stem cells. The committee surmised that a drive to produce groundbreaking results led to publishing results prematurely. "It seems that RIKEN CDB had a strong desire to produce major breakthrough results that would surpass iPS cell research," the report concludes, referring to another type of pluripotent stem cell. "One of our conclusions is that the CDB organization is part of the problem," said committee chair Teruo Kishi Kishi. He recommends a complete overhaul of CDB, including perhaps restructuring it into a new institute. "This has to be more than just changing the nameplate."
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Japanese Stem Cell Debacle Could Bring Down Entire Center

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  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:51PM (#47226137)

    I was wondering if someone would try to relate this to global warming. Of course this story is a good example of why it's silly to think climate scientists are falsifying the science. Anything that doesn't match up with reality will be soon found out and called out by other scientists. After more than 60 years of intense study of the climate how often has that happened? I can recall a few instances where errors (rather than deliberate falsification) were made and when pointed out quickly corrected but no instance of actual attempted falsification.

  • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:16PM (#47226251)
    It's usually not an intentional falsification. They might truly believe that their method works, but they rush to publish with proper verification to avoid being scooped.
  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:49PM (#47226407)

    Sounds like the same drive to produce global warming results.

    Not even close. You need to go to retraction watch [] and read up. Papers get retracted all the time, and these guys cover it.

    Right now, plagiarism is a big thing, even self plagiarism, which is now detected via software. It isn't as nasty a thing as what the japanese researchers pulled, but it is a violation regardless.

    Unfortunately for your thesis that AGW scientists are corrupt, much of the retractions have been on the side of those researchers that are trying to disprove it. []

    These guys had a journal funded by an oil institute, plagiarized themselves, and engged in good old fashioned political nepotism in hteir anti- AGW publication. []

    Another retraction []

    Interestingly enough, the most evil person in the deniers universe has decided that he would use their own tactics []

    I know that there is zero chance of you changing your mind, as you'll just write this off as more proof of the gigantic cabla of Climate scientists sipping on their mojitos, in their carribean "laboratories",, whilst enjoying billions of dollars the have in their Cayman island bank accounts for making sure nothing anti-AGW gets past them.

    Anyhow, read if you dare.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2014 @09:31PM (#47226607)

    Peer review "cannot" catch fraud and is not meant for it either. The reviewers do not, and cannot, replicate the results, their job is to see if the piece of research is technically feasible, theoretically sound and to evaluate its notability. Easily reprogrammable cells like STAP cells are the typical high impact research Nature et al. seek to publish. There are caveats in the work that the referees should have (and maybe did) point out, but the editor decided that the concerns that were or were not raised were unimportant enough to warrant for a quick publication.

    Now, Nature Publishing Group is a profit seeking enterprise, so you might say that they do have an incentive in accepting research that might be of lower quality, but that at least at a glance is ground braking in nature. Whether this plays a role in their practices, it is difficult to say.

  • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @09:39PM (#47226645)

    Peer review "cannot" catch fraud and is not meant for it either.

    Sure it is. That's the entire point, to determine if the research is valid. Just because they *do not* review it thoroughly, doesn't excuse them when they fail to catch fraud.

    "The reviewers do not, and cannot, replicate the results"
    And what *excatly* is preventing them?

  • by rmstar ( 114746 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @03:48AM (#47227903)

    Why do scientists falsify? Or how can they? They must know they will be found out - especially the more sensational the finding.

    The answer to that is that they fool themselves. If you ever have been at a top institution of this kind you might have witnessed a certain mix of hubris, megalomania and groupthink. These people tend to be really good, but their selfconfidence, their lack of understanding of statistics, their mutual reinforcement, and the huge pressure to keep producing blockbuster research can warp their thinking. It would not surprise me that they believed the results to be true, but thought it was just the damned data that kept being wrong.

    This sectlike atmosphere at some of these institutions is compounded by the fact that people there work so insanely hard that they don't have time to take a step back and think things through.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2014 @05:00AM (#47228115)

    I worked at CDB for a number of years, but I ended up quitting a couple of years ago, in large part due the fraud becoming a bit too much of a daily obstacle to actually getting any work done.

    Rather than go on a (very) long rant about the various problems with RIKEN, let me just give my insider opinion for now. If anyone has any questions, I'll do my best to answer.


    1) Academic misconduct is considerably more widespread in Japan than in the Anglosphere. I've gotten tired of speculating on reasons why that is the case, but Google will probably have something to say on the matter.

    2) Shutting down CDB is actually a rather clever PR stunt on RIKEN's part. As anyone who has spent a long time (10+ years) in Japan can tell you, a large part of Japanese culture, in both the corporate and academic spheres, involves what might be called 'constant renewal'. RIKEN is no exception, where this constant renewal manifests itself in three major ways:

    2a) Non-academic staff at RIKEN shuffle jobs annually or bianually, including (incredibly) the "compliance unit" charged with investigating academic misconduct, commercial fraud, etc. This shuffling is, especially for more senior non-academic staff, generally between units rather than within units. The pretext is that this allows staff to become "generalists" so that RIKEN offices can easily continue running even if a few staff happen to leave all at once for whatever reason. For junior non-academic staff, what this means is that a secretary one year might be a health+safety officer the year after that, and work in the PR department the year after that. Maybe that's suboptimal, but if that was where it ended, I think that would be fair enough.

    Where the real problems start is when more senior staff, such as "deputy lab director", "head of legal" or "compliance officer" start shuffling. In practice this means that an investigation into the purchase of a $50,000 Dell server that should have cost $5,000, the publication of fraudulent research, or even sexual harrassment had better start and finish before April 1st, or the shuffling happens, the new guy says "I know nothing" and the old guy says "sorry, that's not my job any more, talk to the new guy." As you can imagine, RIKEN (like any organization struggling to survive) is not really in any great hurry to investigate itself, so these aborted investigations are essentially all that ever occurs.

    2b) Academic staff at RIKEN shuffle jobs in a rather interesting way; essentially all researchers at RIKEN (including new employees such as Postdocs, but excluding postgraduate interns) have multiple, concurrent positions. A Postdoc with 3+ simultaneous appointments is normal, and even mid-career researchers at RIKEN typically have 7 or so simultaneous appointments, mostly in different research centers. In this way, researchers' employment is effectively made permanent and can easily withstand the elimination of an entire research centre or two. Conversely, one common way for RIKEN employees to be constructively dismissed is to have the number of appointments reduced to one or two, so that when a given RIKEN center is "renewed", the old center ceases to exist and any employees belonging only to that center become redundant.

    2c) RIKEN research centers themselves are continually renewed. In this case, CDB [] might be shut down, and that's going to get a good deal of press. What is going to get less press, I imagine, is that a new center, QBiC [] has recently been opened. While QBiC is currently based in Osaka, 30 miles away, my understanding is that a new QBiC center is being constructed literally across the road from CDB. Should CDB actually be closed, expect the majority of CDB researchers to suddenly find themselves with QBiC appointments (many already have such!) and all this closure will amount to is, quite literally, moving into brand new offices a stone's throw from the existing site.

    3) I think that comme

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