July 11, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

STAP stem cell new allegations: situation turns darker

Ostriches, some folks are sticking their heads in the ground over the STAP cell mess.
Ostriches, some folks are sticking their heads in the ground over the STAP cell mess.

I don’t know about you, but this whole STAP stem cell thing has got me kind of bummed out.

Last night I was thinking to perhaps stop blogging about it as the situation turns darker, but it seems like it wouldn’t do any good to ignore it.

The ostrich with head in the sand approach won’t work here (image from Wikipedia). Heads up, eyes and minds open, and push for dialogue. I’m continuing to reach out to the scientists involved to talk and keep it respectful.

As the series of troubles for STAP stem cells just continues to grow and grow like a weed, it’s hard to see a happy ending here. The situation has become a high risk one for both individuals and the stem cell field.

The latest STAP stem cell allegations include a charge of plagiarism and additional alleged image duplications from other papers.

The alleged plagiarism is in the Obokata, et al. Nature STAP stem cell article and taken from a Guo J, et al. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim 2005 paper entitled “Multicolor karyotype analyses of mouse embryonic stem cells”. There sure seems to be a lot of overlap in text in the two papers in some methods descriptions shown in red on that website.

I’ve heard people react to this by saying “no big deal, it’s just a methods section”, while I’ve heard others say “this is misconduct”. I’m sure many people fall somewhere in the middle.

What’s your opinion?

As if that weren’t enough, there is now also a new allegation that two other papers from one of the STAP cell labs share what seems to be one and the same image of trachea, but with directly conflicting figure legends. This is not directly related to STAP stem cells, but it doesn’t exactly build trust.

What’s next?

I’m sure that some of the scientists involved did nothing serious wrong and at most may be guilty of nothing more than rushing and/or being trustful of research collaborators, but they are caught up in this unfolding, painful situation nonetheless.

It’s a nightmare scenario that is likely to get worse before there’s even a chance for it to get better. But maybe in the end there’ll be some lessons to learn from the carnage.

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