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Obokata Scandal Puts Research in Peril

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EE-Joh
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Obokata / Riken
EE-Joh   4/14/2014 12:24:15 AM
There is also a culture of shame situation going on which is probably the overriding factor driving this behavior. 


I'm a long time resident of Japan, having worked in many large Japanese companies as well as having been involved in some university settings, and I would put this down to the "culture of shame" as opposed to one of "science." In Japan one of the worst possible offenses is one that brings shame and embarrassment (murder, rape and other such crimes excepted, though of course those too bring shame). 
The reason the management at Riken came down so hard and mercilessly on Obokata is because they were ashamed and felt embarrassed. 

This is also why the general public in Japan probably has a more favorable impression, or at least probably supports Obokata more than Riken is because they see that. 

It's obvious to everyone that Riken didn't investigate the substance simply because they did it so quickly.  This begs the question of perhaps shouldn't the investigators be investigated themselves for unethical behavior and sloppiness?  



The problem with the culture of shame is that more often than not it causes people to dig themselves into a deeper hole, especially en masse as an institution or even as a nation. It's the same reason the Japanese can't seem to come across truly sincere when trying to resolve situations that actually are shameful or embarrassing - major issues that affect the country's economic well-being and future such as their relations with China and Korea in resolving once and for all past war grievances.

They don't come across sincerely because the main aim is to cover up shame, even if it is only just form - the pretense is more important than the fact, even if it's transparent to all but the most zealous.



The reason you had your reaction to this case is because it is obvious that Riken was and still is not sincere. This is what the public sees.

Some Japanese think this is unique and wrapped up in a sense of honor, respect, responsibility, and priority of the group over the individual, but it is actually a rather commonplace phenomenon we in the West might refer to as CYA, or corporate buck-passing, or how the Catholic church in the past reacted the crimes of pedophiles.  



It is rather amazing though how badly Riken came across, all of which could have been avoided by simply being a bit more thoughtful instead of getting so wrapped up in outrage and sanctimony, however disingenuous, at being caught out so shamefully.  



The thing of it is that Riken's reaction was more shameful than the transgression itself - if and when we find out what actually happened, and if these STAP stem cells experiments can actually be replicated. An investigation of the investigators by the investigators' friends excluding Obokata, etc... etc... isn't likely to get to the bottom of it, because Riken is now in the midst of trying to cover up the shame of covering up the shame, which is more important to them than anything that actually went on.  The only way for them to do that is to make it look like no successful experiments ever took place. 

Bert22306
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Re: woman in science
Bert22306   4/13/2014 6:03:39 PM
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Another part of this story is, undoubtedly, about the woman in science.

It's possible that there is an element of truth to what you say here, Junko, but I wouldn't overstate the point. The claim made here was as significant today, as the claims made back in 1989 by Pons and Fleischmann were back then (on cold fusion, which immediately came to mind). When such important results are immediately shown to be suspect, because no one else can replicate them, you will get exactly this sort of reaction.

I'm pretty sure that if either Pons or Fleischmann, or both, had been women, someone would have suggested that they were given overly negative press just because they were women.

I'm sure this sort of thing happens often, but not usually on really significant research -- the kind of research the average joe can appreciate. I'd say, had Obokata not been working on stem cell research, or other similarly glamorous topic du jour, the popular press may not even have noticed.

goafrit
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Re: News conference next week by Yoshiki Sasai
goafrit   4/13/2014 2:24:59 PM
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This world likes scandal a lot. That paper has some really important contributions. It is like our political system. One sentence error and you are gone. Why not give her support and see if she fails as she appears genuine in her convinction.  The Harvard professors that came up with  90% debt limit for economy to crash were not seen as frauds, this lady should not also. Errors happen and we are humans.

_hm
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CEO
It happens - Do not be so harsh
_hm   4/13/2014 7:51:10 AM
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It does happen often in research community. Sometime you get exceited and become myopic.

But no need to be so harsh. Forgive and forget and give her next chance. She will get you some promosing result.

 

junko.yoshida
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Re: Didn't this happen before
junko.yoshida   4/12/2014 10:14:13 PM
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@resistion, it's true that so much is riding on stem cell research, which makes it a high stake game for those looking for bigger grant money.

resistion
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Didn't this happen before
resistion   4/12/2014 6:59:04 PM
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Dr. Hwang Woo-suk was involved in a stem-cell related scandal before as well, but more to do with cloning. Why is stem-cell research so vulnerable to these types of scandals? So easy to fool people and so much to gain?

Sheetal.Pandey
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Re: woman in science
Sheetal.Pandey   4/12/2014 2:03:12 PM
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Researchers who work on stem cells spend day and night to get their experiments done and are extremely cautious of details. Also their work is often reviewd by senior researchers so its quite surprising what happened.

junko.yoshida
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Blogger
woman in science
junko.yoshida   4/12/2014 12:24:39 PM
Another part of this story is, undoubtedly, about the woman in science.

Although I didn't dwell on it in this blog (because there were other points I wanted to make), Ifelt really terrible about how the media went after her (largely because she is a woman, young, and pretty).

 

junko.yoshida
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Blogger
Re: News conference next week by Yoshiki Sasai
junko.yoshida   4/12/2014 11:26:19 AM
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@isao0, so I heard too as I left Japan yesterday. Yes, I am curious to find out what he would say. For those who don't know who Sasai is he is group director of the Laboratory for Organogenesis and Neurogenesis at the RIKEN center and coauthor of both studies on STAP cells.

isao0
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News conference next week by Yoshiki Sasai
isao0   4/12/2014 11:12:10 AM
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I've heard Yoshiki Sasai at Riken will have a press conference next week and reveal his support Ms. Obokata. We will see.

Isao

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