September 20, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Don’t Penalize All of RIKEN CDB for STAP Cell Flap

As the STAP cell fiasco has evolved, there has been discussion of various possible resolutions or even penalties for those involved, both institutions like RIKEN and individuals.

One of the most extreme and I believe way out of proportion potential outcomes suggested has been the dismantling of RIKEN’s entire Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe. An outside reform panel has reportedly suggested to RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori that CDB be dissolved.

RIKEN CDB
RIKEN CDB logo.

While it is true that Obokata was working at CDB and a few other on the STAP cell papers were also at CDB, this does not in any way suggest that the CDB as a whole has systemic problems that would make the center’s dissolution a rational and helpful act. As best as I can tell there is no indication that the CDB as a whole is anything but a premier international center of excellence in developmental biology with the vast majority of labs entirely unlinked to STAP. In fact, many of the PIs of the CDB rather early on in the STAP scandal posted a responsible letter on the situation. They also include many stellar scientists.

Perhaps it is appropriate for a few specific individual parties at CDB to resign (and indeed some resignations are unfolding or seem inevitable) and for RIKEN to conduct some important reforms at CDB, but to dissolve all of CDB would be unfair and unwise. It would be bad policy and bad for science.

Some have pointed to a potential silver lining in this situation though. Indeed it is worth noting that folks in the know say that even if CDB is dissolved, it will almost certainly be reformed with mostly the same people under a new name. Still, how that would play out is unclear and some scientists could well unfairly have their careers damaged.

At this point it is not clear that logic has much to do with STAP anymore. It is more of a political than scientific or rational situation at this point moving forward.

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