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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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June 2, 2014

No More Acid Stem Cells

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Posted by Derek

In case you hadn't seen it, the "acid-washed stem cells" business has gone as far into the dumper as it can possibly go. It now appears that the whole thing was a fraud, from start to finish - if that's not the case, I'll be quite surprised, anyway. The most senior author of the (now retracted) second paper, Teruhiko Wakayama, has said that he doesn't believe its results:

The trigger, he told Bioscience, was his discovery—which he reported to Riken a few weeks ago--that two key photos in the second paper were wrong. Obokata, lead author on both papers, had in April been found by Riken guilty of misconduct on the first paper: the falsification of a gel electrophoresis image proving her starting cells were mature cells, and the fabrication of images proving resulting STAP stem cells could form the three major tissue types of the body.

But Riken had not yet announced serious problems with the second paper.

Last week, however, there was a flurry of activity in the Japanese press, as papers reported that two photos—supposed to show placenta made from STAP cells, next to placenta made from embryonic stem (ES) cells—were actually photos of the same mouse placenta.

As with so many cases before this one, we now move on (as one of Doris Lessing's characters once put it) to having interesting thoughts about the psychology of lying. How and why someone does this sort of thing is, I'm relieved to say, apparently beyond me. The only way I can remotely see it is if these results were something that a person thought were really correct, but just needed a bit more work, which would be filled in in time to salvage everything. But how many times have people thought that? And how does it always seem to work out? I'm back to being baffled. The stem cell field has attracted its share of mentally unstable people, and more.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Biological News | The Dark Side | The Scientific Literature


1. NMH on June 2, 2014 7:19 AM writes...

Why do people lie in science? Its simple, really: if you dont lie, then there is an improved chance you will end up as a "Research Associate" (one step up from a post-doc) in his 50's like me.

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2. steve on June 2, 2014 7:28 AM writes...

Lying can be either to yourself or to others. My guess is that she was lying to herself and really believed she'd made a major discovery. Once you're convinced you're right then not having the correct photograph is just a trivial problem. The whole point of science is to disabuse yourself of such self-deception but too many people who call themselves scientists have not truly learned that discipline.

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3. Anonymous on June 2, 2014 9:55 AM writes...

Why do people lie in science? Because the likely career benefits of getting away with it greatly outweigh the potential punishment: a slap on the wrist. It should be treated like a white collar crime where offenders are punished with ... erm, a slap on the wrist.

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4. anon the II on June 2, 2014 1:16 PM writes...


I though you were me for a second there and then I remembered that I just turned 60.

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5. Courthouse on June 3, 2014 6:42 AM writes...

Why do some people lie in science? Essentially at the time it seems like the easy way to get "ahead" when in reality it ends up being the hardest... One lie leads to another and so on.

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6. NMH on June 3, 2014 8:12 AM writes...

Anon the II: you mean there is the slight possibility that I can continue in this low paying academic position until Im 60, without being replaced by cheap immigrant post-doc or grad student labor?

Its people like you, Anon II, that give people like me hope and the will to carry on.

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7. Anonymous on June 3, 2014 8:13 AM writes...

@5: Any evidence to support your claim?

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8. anon on June 3, 2014 9:44 AM writes...

Obokata has only OK'ed retraction of one paper (the less important one). Maybe she is lying to herself, but other not-independent labs (the Harvard people with the different protocol) appeared to be able to reproduce the results, so why shouldn't she believe in STAP?

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9. Anonymous BMS Researcher on June 3, 2014 7:52 PM writes...

As a postdoc, I had a major fight with the Senior Author of one paper.
He wanted us to describe some stuff we expected to be working by the
WORK. I said in so many words, "I will not sign my name as first
author to a paper that says we have made something work before I have
seen it work for real."

It was not easy saying that to the Professor, but I stuck to my guns
and our paper as published made a clear distinction between that which
I had seen working and that which we planned on trying soon.

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10. Anon the III on June 11, 2014 10:27 AM writes...

@NMH, #6

I would say that it could be worse, that I'd like to have another RA position (and I'm not much younger than you).

But that would be too sad.

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11. Anonymous BMS Researcher on June 16, 2014 6:36 AM writes...

"Shutting down the research center at the heart of an unfolding scientific scandal may be necessary to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct, according to a report released at a press conference here today. A committee reviewing conduct at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, found lax oversight and a failure on the part of senior authors of two papers in Nature outlining a surprisingly simple way of reprogramming mature cells into stem cells. The committee surmised that a drive to produce groundbreaking results led to publishing results prematurely."

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12. worldofchemicals on August 22, 2014 4:59 AM writes...

what will happen to all of them who already working on it for years together

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13. nitrosonium on September 10, 2014 12:20 PM writes...

Anon the II....i too thought that 1st entry was you!!

in case i don't see you....the tropine ester formed but hydrolyzed on column. such is life in the lab

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