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2014年12月21日 (日)

社説:STAP否定 論文不正の全容解明を

December 20, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Full disclosure urged over STAP paper scandal
社説:STAP否定 論文不正の全容解明を

Riken institute researcher Haruko Obokata has been unable to recreate stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells, as has a separate Riken team. With the consistent failure to create the cells, the institute has declared an end to the verification experiments -- hardly a surprise after Obokata herself failed to replicate STAP cells based on the methods detailed in her research papers.

The STAP cell papers were dismissed once again and the purported existence of STAP cells returned to the realm of theory. Obokata is leaving Riken. The move marks a turning point in the STAP paper scandal -- which rocked not only scientific circles but also society at large, and led to the loss of a leading scientist. Still, suspicion remains.

This is because the question of why the papers were released by Riken -- one of Japan's foremost research institutions -- has been unanswered.

A fact-finding committee set up at Riken has been investigating the remaining allegations surrounding the STAP papers. Those questions include what exactly the cells that the research paper authors claimed to have "created" were; what the data and charts in the papers indicate; what steps were taken before the papers were released; and what roles the co-authors of the papers played in that process.

In order to prevent a recurrence of such irregularities and confusion, Riken must get to the bottom of the allegations and be fully accountable.

In addition, the country's scientific circles need to learn lessons from the STAP paper scandal, and make the most of them in preventing misconduct and responding to any allegations in the future.

In retrospect, Riken took too much time to reach its latest conclusion. The institute was also too passive in verifying the papers' problems once they were uncovered. The way the STAP paper co-authors held press conferences individually was also problematic. There's no denying that Riken's poor response to the scandal resulted in prolonging the confusion.

Behind the STAP paper scandal lies a problem with the government's deficient policies on graduate education, despite an increase in PhD holders. An investigation conducted by Waseda University has found that Obokata's doctoral thesis contained material plagiarized from a U.S. website. The university has decided to strip her of her doctoral degree unless she resubmits her thesis.

The incident underscores the fact that she failed to learn the basics of conducting proper research and writing papers -- scientific fundamentals she ought to have learned in her university and graduate school years. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as well as universities should take the matter seriously and work to improve the situation.

Even if the STAP papers had proved valid, they were no more than basic research using mice. Nevertheless, the papers triggered a wave of high expectations for regenerative medicine, due in part to extensive publicity. That may have affected the responses of Riken and the government. The country's policy on science and technology -- which emphasizes immediate practical application of basic research -- may have played a part in the series of scandals. The STAP incident should serve as an opportunity for Japan to reconsider exactly how basic scientific research is conducted in this country.

毎日新聞 2014年12月20日 02時40分(最終更新 12月20日 10時13分)


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