September 27, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Obokata STAP news conference: thoughts, questions & open discussion

Pic from the Obokata press conference on STAP cell mess.
Pic from the Obokata press conference on STAP cell mess.

Dr. Haruko Obokata held a news conference today in Japan about the STAP cell controversy.

It was very painful to watch.

I’m a softy so at moments I felt somewhat sad for her as I watched, but as a scientist I have to say the STAP situation has been very bad for the stem cell field.

And I’m also pretty sure that this press conference did not do the stem cell field or anyone else any good including Obokata.

She first read from a pre-released printed statement that included an apology for many mistakes that she blamed on her own “carelessness and inexperience”, but that she still fully believes in STAP cells (you can see the full WSJ translation here). TJO was live Tweeting the conference as well.

Her statement admitted to many mistakes, but challenged RIKEN:

“The Riken investigation concluded that there was misconduct without sufficient understanding of the facts.”

She also wrote in the statement:

“the mistakes do not effect the conclusion of the papers, and moreover the experiments have been conducted accurately and the data exist.”

Frankly I do not have any more confidence in STAP itself after this press event than I did before. Perhaps even less.

After she read her statement, her lawyer went through the details of her appeal of the RIKEN decision.

The video feed cut out on me part way through and I couldn’t get it back up, but I saw her begin to take questions. She is still opposed to retraction.

One thing going through my mind as I watched and as I read the WSJ translation was the same question over and over “where were the mentors?” Certainly RIKEN must shoulder a major part of the blame for the STAP situation along with Brigham & Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. At the same time I believe in personal responsibility and Obokata, who is/was a Unit Leader at RIKEN, apologized for many serious mistakes.

Basically it’s just a nightmare situation all around.

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