Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 147–167 | Cite as

The Acid Test for Biological Science: STAP Cells, Trust, and Replication

  • Cheryl LancasterEmail author
Original Paper


In January 2014, a letter and original research article were published in Nature describing a process whereby somatic mouse cells could be converted into stem cells by subjecting them to stress. These “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency” (STAP) cells were shown to be capable of contributing to all cell types of a developing embryo, and extra-embryonic tissues. The lead author of the publications, Haruko Obokata, became an overnight celebrity in Japan, where she was dubbed the new face of Japanese science. However, in the weeks that followed publication of the research, issues arose. Other laboratories and researchers (including authors on the original papers) found that they were unable to replicate Obokata et al.’s work. Closer scrutiny of the papers by the scientific community also suggested that there was manipulation of images that had been published, and Obokata was accused of misconduct. Those who should have been supervising her work (also her co-authors on the publications) were also heavily criticised. The STAP cell saga of 2014 is used as an example to highlight the importance of trust and replication in twenty-first century biological science. The role of trust in the scientific community is highlighted, and the effects on interactions between science and the public examined. Similarly, this essay aims to highlight the importance of replication, and how this is understood by researchers, the media, and the public. The expected behaviour of scientists in the twenty-first century is now more closely scrutinised.


STAP cells Replication Trust Misconduct Haruko Obokata 



A shorter version of this paper was presented at the Centre for Ethics, Law, and the Life Sciences (CELLS), Durham University, in June 2014. I would like to thank CELLS members, and in particular Prof A-H Maehle, for their comments, and to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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