January 19, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

Past Time for Nature to Retract STAP Cell Pubs, Open up on Review Problems

nature's misstap on STAPTwo stem cell papers riddled with errors, with figures that resulted from potential misconduct, with plagiarism, and with other serious problems remain uncorrected and unretracted in the prestigious journal Nature.

It is well past time for the journal to editorially retract them.

It was about four months ago that Nature published the two astonishing STAP papers reporting the supposed creation of super-powerful stem cells (known variously as STAP cells or STAP stem cells) via simple methods such as weak acid treatment.

Since their publication, it’s been all down hill for these papers.

As soon as they came out I posted a review raising key questions about them related to puzzling issues.

Within a week I was the first scientist to publicly raised serious doubts about the papers. I gave the top 5 reasons to doubt the papers.

Within a few more weeks there were signs that the STAP papers were seriously compromised and one senior author, Teru Wakayama, himself called for their retraction.

To this day, nobody has gotten the STAP method to work and perhaps even more importantly, it is clear that both papers are irredeemable due to many serious and unfixable problems.

And yet they still remain uncorrected and unretracted in Nature.


Could the journal be holding out some hope that someone somewhere will get the STAP method to work? If so, the journal leadership should realize that it’s too late for that to save the papers.

Is the journal going through some slow process of investigation that it wants to finish before retracting the papers? I don’t know, but time is ticking away and there is no apparent reason for further delay.

Are they just hoping that as months go by fewer people will care about STAP?

Whatever the reason, it is well past time for Nature to editorially retract these tainted papers. There is nothing more to be learned that could save the papers and every day that passes with them still in the Nature portfolio is a shame.

Making matters worse, there is no apparent sign that Nature is taking the STAP problem to heart as it pertains to its own role in the debacle and the flaws in its own manuscript review process. For example, Nature recently published an editorial harshly criticizing Japan for its science related scandals and in that piece Nature mentioned the STAP scandal as an example, but it did not mention a role for Nature itself in the STAP mess that might need discussion and action. And of course the STAP papers included America’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, not just Japan.

It’s time for Nature to get real on STAP.

Retract the STAP papers and publicly discuss what went wrong.

The journal of course cannot and should not be directly blamed for any potential author misconduct, but clearly Nature has some major responsibility for the train wreck that is STAP.

You can only get so much mileage out of blaming others outside the journal as much as that blame may be appropriate.

Time for action and openness by Nature. That’s the only way for the journal to move on in a positive way.

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