RIKEN rejects Obokata appeal on alleged STAP cell misconduct

Obokata press conference on STAP cells.
Obokata press conference on STAP cells.

A RIKEN committee has rejected an appeal by Dr. Haruko Obokata regarding its finding of research misconduct related to two papers in Nature claiming the production of so-called STAP cells and STAP stem cells.

Earlier the committee had ruled that Obokata had allegedly engaged in misconduct and that there problems with the research. Obokata appealed this ruling on April 8 and now the committee has rejected her appeal. The results of their deliberations were summarized succinctly thusly:

The committee, taking into account the points and rationales presented in Dr. Obokata’s appeal filed on April 8, 2014, along with the supplementary rationales submitted on April 20 and May 4, has concluded that there is no need to re-investigate the results of the committee’s investigation issued on March 31, 2014.

It is notable that some members of the committee themselves have been accused of having issues of their own with past publications (e.g. see this Nature News piece). This is also mentioned in the statement of today from RIKEN’s President, Ryoji Noyori:

As regards the allegations of research misconduct in past papers published by members of the investigative committee, we believe the committee has nevertheless carried out its investigation appropriately and have concluded that the allegations do not affect the committee’s findings concerning the STAP cell papers. Members of the committee who are affiliated with RIKEN whose own papers have been called into question will be investigated separately as per RIKEN’s regulations. Committee members who are not affiliated with RIKEN will be investigated as per the regulations of their own institutions.

Obokata’s future at RIKEN remains uncertain at this time. With the rejection of her appeal, RIKEN may soon make a decision about what to do next.

This is all likely to end up in court as well.

The committee’s full report is not yet available in English, but commenter Ken has apparently read it and has raised some concerns about it already (BTW a hat tip to Ken on today’s RIKEN release of the decision and reports).

What a stressful mess, huh?

4 thoughts on “RIKEN rejects Obokata appeal on alleged STAP cell misconduct”

  1. Maybe another huge scandal in stem cell research in the past gives us some insights?

    I was surprised and, at the same time, glad to know that Dr. Hwang is making a comeback. So far he hasn’t secured governmental funding. I believe anyone who admits mistakes and corrects him/herself deserves redemption.

    1. Well, Hwang has been deprived of his Ph.D degree after the investigations by Seoul National University. It does not change nonetheless that Mr Hwang is making a come back. Sad.

  2. Jason Sterrenberg

    Hi Dr Knoepfler, thanks for keeping us updated. In professional sports if you are caught cheating with performance enhancing drugs you will serve a ban period where you are not allowed to participate professionally in that particular sport for a particular length of time. I am unaware if the same principle applies in the scientific community, if a researcher is caught fabricating data are there any ‘laws’ in place to prevent the researcher from publishing again for a certain period of time? If not, do you think there should be? Or is it an unwritten rule that funding agencies and publishers will not fund/publish your work because of the fact that the researcher has been caught fabricating data and so there is mistrust?

    1. There are no equivalent of “laws” for science. For funding agencies such as NIH they have rules as well as consequences for proven misconduct. Institutions may or may not have rules. More generally, I’m not really sure what happens to researchers who were found to have committed past misconduct as to whether they pay a price from the science community in the future.

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