The Acid Test for Biological Science: STAP Cells, Trust, and Replication
- 879 Downloads
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.
KeywordsSTAP 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.
- Broad, W., & Wade, N. (1982). Betrayers of the truth: A fraud and deceit in the halls of science. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
- Cesari, F. (2014). Letter to professor Lee. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/259984904_Stimulus-triggered_fate_conversion_of_somatic_cells_into_pluripotency/reviews/103. Accessed 4 Sept 2014.
- Chambers, C., & Sumner, P. (2012). Replication is the only solution to scientific fraud. The guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/14/solution-scientific-fraud-replication. Accessed 8 April 2014.
- Cyranoski, D. (2014a, 3 June). Genetic tests suggest STAP stem cells ‘never existed’. Nature. http://blogs.nature.com/news/2014/06/genetic-tests-suggest-stap-stem-cells-never-existed.html. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Cyranoski, D. (2014b, 17 Jun). Gene tests suggest acid-bath stem cells never existed. Nature. http://www.nature.com/news/gene-tests-suggest-acid-bath-stem-cells-never-existed-1.15425. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Cyranoski, D. (2014c, 3 Jul). Research integrity: Cell-induced stress. Nature. http://www.nature.com/news/research-integrity-cell-induced-stress-1.15507. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Cyranoski, D. (2014d, 13 Aug). Stem-cell pioneer blamed media ‘bashing’ in suicide note. Nature. http://www.nature.com/news/stem-cell-pioneer-blamed-media-bashing-in-suicide-note-1.15715. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Cyranoski, D. (2014e, 12 Sep). STAP co-author offers yet another recipe for stem cells. Nature. http://blogs.nature.com/news/2014/09/stap-co-author-offers-yet-another-recipe-for-stem-cells.html. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Galison, P. (2008). Removing knowledge: The logic of modern censorship. In R. N. Proctor & L. Schiebinger (Eds.), Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance (pp. 37–54). California: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Grinnell, F. (1992). The scientific attitude (2nd ed.). London: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- House of Lords. (2000). Science and technology—Third report. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldselect/ldsctech/38/3801.htm. Accessed 1 Jan 2015.
- Knoepfler, P. (2014, 3 July). Interview with Nature on their editorial process in wake of STAP. Knoepfler lab stem cell blog. http://www.ipscell.com/2014/07/interview-with-nature-on-their-editorial-process-in-wake-of-stap/. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Martin, A. (2014). Japanese university may strip stem-cell scientist of doctorate. The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/articles/japanese-university-may-strip-stem-cell-scientist-of-doctorate-1412683955. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Martin, A. & Naik, G. (2014). Japanese institute weighs retracting stem-cell studies: Move by Riken comes a day after co-author called for retraction, citing ‘crucial mistakes’. The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304020104579430600241800532. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Nature Publishing Group. (2014a). For authors. Brief communications arising. http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/gta/commsarising.html. Accessed 4 Sept 2014.
- Nature Publishing Group. (2014b). Availability of data & materials: Authors & referees. http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/availability.html. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Normile, D. (2014a, 12 Jun). Japanese stem cell debacle could bring down center. Science. http://news.sciencemag.org/asiapacific/2014/06/japanese-stem-cell-debacle-could-bring-down-center. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Normile, D. (2014b, 27 Aug). In Japan, official effort to replicate STAP stem cells comes up empty. Science. http://news.sciencemag.org/asiapacific/2014/08/japan-official-effort-replicate-stap-stem-cells-comes-empty. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Otake, T. (2014). Obokata says STAP cell discovery not fabrication, claims RIKEN dissuaded her from giving her side of the story earlier. The Japan Times. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/09/national/obokata-says-stap-cell-discovery-not-fabrication-claims-riken-dissuaded-her-from-giving-her-side-of-story-earlier/#.VELYVl5–lI. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Proctor, R. (2008). Agnotology: A missing term to describe the cultural production of ignorance (and its study). In R. N. Proctor & L. Schiebinger (Eds.), Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance (pp. 1–33). California: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Research Paper Investigative Committee. (2014). Report on STAP cell research paper investigation. http://www3.riken.jp/stap/e/f1document1.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- ResearchGate. (2014, Apr 1). Researcher partly validates results of controversial stem cell study. ResearchGate. https://explore.researchgate.net/display/news/2014/04/01/Researcher+partly+validates+results+of+controversial+stem+cell+study. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Resnik, D. B. (1998). The ethics of science: An introduction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Retraction Watch. (2014, Sept 10). “Truly extraordinary,” “simply not credible,” “suspiciously sharp:” A STAP stem cell peer review report revealed. Retraction watch http://retractionwatch.com/2014/09/10/truly-extraordinary-simply-not-credible-suspiciously-sharp-a-stap-stem-cell-peer-review-report-revealed/. Accessed 12 Sept 2014.
- Rice, C. (2013, Oct 4). Open access publishing hoax: What science magazine got wrong. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/oct/04/science-hoax-peer-review-open-access. Accessed 5 Oct 2013.
- RIKEN. (2014). Interim report on the investigation of the Obokata et al. articles. http://www.riken.jp/en/pr/press/2014/20140314_1/. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Stevenson, L., & Byerly, H. (1995). The many faces of science: An introduction to scientists, values and society. Colorado: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Tang, M. K., Lo, M. L. M., Shi, W. T., Lee, H. S. S., & Lee, K. K. H. (2014). Transient acid treatment cannot induce neonatal somatic cells to become pluripotent stem cells. F1000Research. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.4092.1. http://f1000research.com/articles/3-102/v1#sthash.7XanTt6W.dpuf. Accessed 4 Sept 2014.
- The Japan Times. (2014a). Obokata injured while fleeing pack of NHK reporters, lawyer says. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/07/24/national/obokata-injured-fleeing-pack-nhk-reporters-lawyer-says/#.VELSsF5–lI. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- The Japan Times. (2014b). STAP paper co-author Sasai commits suicide. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/05/national/embattled-stap-study-co-author-dies-after-apparent-suicide-bid/#.U_Srjtq9KSN. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Thomson, H. (2014, 5 Feb). Extraordinary stem cell method tested in human culture. New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25004-extraordinary-stem-cell-method-tested-in-human-tissue.html. Accessed 1 Oct 2014.
- Vacanti, C. A., & Kojima, K. (2014). Revised STAP cell protocol. 09.03.14. https://research.bwhanesthesia.org/site_assets/51520d191eea6679ce000001/cterm/Revised_STAP_protocol-28bcd7e61d02a23624eb590717e241fe.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct 2014.
- Vogel, G., & Normile, D. (2014). Exclusive: Nature reviewers not persuaded by initial STAP stem cell papers. Science. http://news.sciencemag.org/asiapacific/2014/09/exclusive-nature-reviewers-not-persuaded-initial-stap-stem-cell-papers. Accessed 12 Sept 2014.
- Zuckerman, H. (1984). Norms and deviant behaviour in science. Science, Technology and Human Values, 9(1), 7–13.Google Scholar