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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 12, 2014

Stem Cell Shakedown Cruise

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Posted by Derek

OK, now that recent stem cell report is really in trouble. One of the main authors, Teruhiko Wakayama, is saying that the papers should be withdrawn. Here's NHK:

Wakayama told NHK he is no longer sure the STAP cells were actually created. He was in charge of important experiments to check the pluripotency of the cells.

He said a change in a specific gene is key proof that the cells are created. He said team members were told before they released the papers that the gene had changed.

Last week, RIKEN disclosed detailed procedures for making STAP cells after outside experts failed to replicate the results outlined in the Nature article.
Wakayama pointed out that in the newly released procedures, RIKEN says this change didn't take place.

He said he reviewed test data submitted to the team's internal meetings and found multiple serious problems, such as questionable images.

These are the sorts of things that really should be ironed out before you make a gigantic scientific splash, you'd think. But I can understand how these things happen, too - a big important result, a groundbreaking discovery, and you think that someone else is probably bound to find the same thing within a month. Within a week. So you'd better publish as fast as you can, unless you feel like being a footnote when the history gets written and the prizes get handed out. There are a few details that need to be filled in? That's OK - just i-dotting and t-crossing, that stuff will be OK. The important thing is the get the discovery out to the world.

But that stuff comes back to bite you, big-time. Andrew Wiles was able to fix his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem post-announcement, but (a) that problem was non-obvious (he didn't know it was there at first), and (b) biology ain't math. Cellular systems are flaky, fluky, and dependent on a lot of variables, some of which you might not even be aware of. An amazing result in an area as tricky as stem cell generation needs a lot of shaking down, and it seems that this one has gotten it. Well, it's getting it now.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Biological News


1. PotStirrer on March 12, 2014 8:12 AM writes...

Andrew Wiles

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2. dearieme on March 12, 2014 8:28 AM writes...

Yes, Wiles was wily but not Weil.

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3. luysii on March 12, 2014 9:29 AM writes...

Princeton offered early retirement to senior professors of a certain age -- Wiles took it, so he's gone at 62 and so is John H. Conway (but he's 76) Not sure this was a smart move on Princeton's part.

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4. Curious Wavefunction on March 12, 2014 9:44 AM writes...

Princeton also turned down Grigori Perelman's request (demand?) for a tenured position. Then he went off into the woods and solved the Poincare Conjecture.

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5. Anchor on March 12, 2014 9:57 AM writes...

If this was a a stem cell oriented "Curious case of Benjamin Button" and perhaps the Japanese know more than they claim. By withdrawing paper they are halting others not to pursue on simple conditions on forcing adult cells to become embryonic-style stem cells.

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6. luysii on March 12, 2014 10:23 AM writes...

#4 Ah yes, but Princeton Football tied for the Ivy League championship with Harvard this year.

Onward and upward

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7. dearieme on March 12, 2014 11:00 AM writes...

Has Wiles gone somewhere else?

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8. Tom Womack on March 12, 2014 11:35 AM writes...

Yes, Wiles is now Royal Society Professor of Mathematics, based at Merton College, Oxford (I'm an alumnus) and working in the Andrew Wiles Building which is the new home of the maths department. I hadn't realized that this was because he had been early-retired at Princeton.

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9. Justin Peucon on March 12, 2014 11:37 AM writes...

"So you'd better publish as fast as you can".
The rush to publish is a blatant misconduct which kills Science.

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10. Anonymous on March 12, 2014 2:38 PM writes...

Andrew Wiles is a Princeton mathematician who solved Fermat's. Andrew Weil is a new age guru/quack. I think you mean the former.

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11. dearieme on March 12, 2014 3:05 PM writes...

Can't blame a man for retiring to Oxford - a jewel-box of a town. Can't blame a retired man in Oxford for starting a retirement job: maths is more fun than golf. But I digress.

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12. Tom Womack on March 13, 2014 5:05 AM writes...

André Weil, on the other hand, was one of the great number-theorists and algebraic geometers of the middle of the 20th century; what Wiles proved was the Taniyama-Shimura-Weil conjecture.

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13. MTK on March 13, 2014 6:47 AM writes...


Using early retirement as a verb, as in "early-retired" seems to imply some sort of negative connotation, while I see it differently especially in this case.

Early retirement packages are generally pretty generous, which is how companies get people to take them. For tenured professors I'll assume that they are very generous, since the reason you take them is that you weigh it against the alternative of maybe being fired later which generally doesn't happen if you're tenured.

You get a great financial offer and you get the freedom to pursue other things. Winner winner.

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