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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

junko.yoshida
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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.

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.

junko.yoshida
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Re: News conference next week by Yoshiki Sasai
junko.yoshida   4/18/2014 5:35:22 PM
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Sasai's press conference took place in Tokyo two days ago.

Here's the report on that press conference:

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404160060

I don't particularly feel that this resulted in solving the mystery, though.

junko.yoshida
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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).

 

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.

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.

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?

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.

_hm
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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.

 

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. 

AugustHayek
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Re: Obokata / Riken
AugustHayek   4/14/2014 2:30:02 AM
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This is a terrible comment.

Firstly, shame has nothing to do with this. If anything, the RIKEN's harsh reaction was because of their planned upgrade to higher government institution.

The general public does not have more a favorable impression, nor the entire Japanese science community.

Secondly, the scope of the RIKEN's investigation was on the preparation of the paper itself, and it clearly stated that the existence of STAP is not covered. Thus in pure scientific sense, some aspects of the report are fabrication, but the STAP phenomenon may not be. They can both be true.

Thirdly, this has nothing to do with Japan's history issue with China or Korea. Obviously, this person has never studied Asian history in university, and commented on this just by reading some Wikipedia or newspaper. This alone tells that this person is talking about something he does not know.

Before talking about somebody else's pretense, it is advised to worry about yours first.

AugustHayek
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Re: Obokata / Riken
AugustHayek   4/14/2014 2:30:03 AM
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This is a terrible comment.

Firstly, shame has nothing to do with this. If anything, the RIKEN's harsh reaction was because of their planned upgrade to higher government institution.

The general public does not have more a favorable impression, nor the entire Japanese science community.

Secondly, the scope of the RIKEN's investigation was on the preparation of the paper itself, and it clearly stated that the existence of STAP is not covered. Thus in pure scientific sense, some aspects of the report are fabrication, but the STAP phenomenon may not be. They can both be true.

Thirdly, this has nothing to do with Japan's history issue with China or Korea. Obviously, this person has never studied Asian history in university, and commented on this just by reading some Wikipedia or newspaper. This alone tells that this person is talking about something he does not know.

Before talking about somebody else's pretense, it is advised to worry about yours first.

EE-Joh
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Re: Obokata / Riken
EE-Joh   4/14/2014 3:00:23 AM
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You could be right. If so, I'm sorry about that. But I watched the press conferences and read the local news and saw the expressions on their faces, so I don't know. It's a look that's hard to hide.   

Of course shame doesn't have anything to do with whether or not mistakes happened, or whehter or not is was fraudulent. 

I'v obviously hurt your feelings, and touched a nerve, and am sorry about that. 

The planned upgrade, the institution's reputation in the view of the scientific community...  

I still think there's an element of shame in there... much the same as we see other issues are dealt with... 

Anyway, I'm sorry to have upset you. 

And you are probably right. I have pretenses as we all do to an extent, and I am nothing special, but I don't know... I was quite surprised by how quickly they rushed through the investigation, and I heard similar sentiments from others. Those Riken officials were quite upset, even humiliated as they would have been of course, and I would as well. Semantics about whether they were looking into the paper or the research aiside, they didn't exactly come caross sympathetically, and my money is still on shame as a central theme - but I dont' need to win the argument.   

I would have done better to express myself more thoughfully. 

EE-Joh
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Re: Obokata / Riken
EE-Joh   4/14/2014 3:36:11 AM
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To be fair, I'm sure Riken was also under a lot of pressure to act fast - to end the shame, under the glare of government officials, peers - Stem cell research is an area in which Japan excels and has made phenomenal breakthroughs - a source of national pride. 

It's all the more remarkable how Obokata found the courage to fight back - sitting almost alone at the press conference, given the social stigma attached to what she was being accused of, and the damage to reputation. 

And I agree that it was disappointing how she wasn't prepared on a few points and seemed to be unable to respond in detail on the question about the identity of the person / group she claimed had succeed in replicating the experiment.

I fear this will not end well, but hope it will, and I hope her supporter at Harvard doesn't have to abandon her. 




junko.yoshida
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Re: Obokata / Riken
junko.yoshida   4/14/2014 10:49:30 AM
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@EE-Joh, I, too, watched the entire press conference, monitored the opinions in the Japanese media and talked to people that I know, while I was in Japan last week.

The way Obokata was lynched during the news conference was quite shocking. But then, I again, it was unfortunate that her responses to some of the questions were less than satisfactory.

Principally, I am not impressed with the fact that Obokata, as a scientist, even spliced some images in the papers submitted. (Why would she ever do that...just to make the images look better?).

However, I am less impressed with Riken's apparent eagerness to move on (either out of shame or out of their greed to get its research institute upgraded by the government in a hurry.)  

 

krisi
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Re: Obokata / Riken
krisi   4/14/2014 1:23:27 PM
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You seem to be making harsh judgements Junko on Obokata...and somehow pick on Japan slopiness in research...my experience in academia is that this rather universal problem, not Obokata or Japan specific...simply publish or perish...Kris

junko.yoshida
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Re: Obokata / Riken
junko.yoshida   4/14/2014 4:03:28 PM
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Thanks for your comment, kris. It's interesting to find out that people in the West seem to be far more forgiving to Obokata. And I think you may be right. This is a far more universal problem than I would have originally thought.

krisi
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Re: Obokata / Riken
krisi   4/14/2014 5:00:45 PM
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There is a tremendous pressure on young researchers to deliver novel research results...if you don't deliver you are out, unlikely a teacher, public servant or nurse...but you only have to work very hard first 5-6 years until you are granted the tenure...after that you can relax and almost stop working (some continue to work very hard but they like it not because they have to)...if you abolish the tenure system these problems will largely disappear in my opinion...Kris

boblespam
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Re: Obokata / Riken
boblespam   4/14/2014 2:50:41 AM
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All this kind of research is massively based on statistics. Statistics are so difficult to understand - even for educated people - that sometime end with this kind of scandals. Like for the "water memory" paper, also published in Nature which could'nt be reproduced.

It's funny to see that it's making so much noise in Japan as it happens also quite often in the USA. There are a lot of examples. The latest on I read this moring in "Le Monde" related to the scandal of those medecines tested successfully on mice, get a lot of money to test on humans to finally see that they don't work at all. With the same conclusion: biological science need to conducted with more statistical rigor.

Etmax
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Women in Science
Etmax   4/14/2014 10:30:27 PM
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It's possibly a sad reflection of the strong presence of chauvenism Japanese culture and also the incredibly deep sense of honour that I think is still prevalent. It can drive someone to "react" emotionally without the essential establishment of facts.

I think also the culture of always going home after your boss can put you in a state of mind where reality get cloudy. The Chines are famous (infamous) for their working conditions that have them have the highest suicide rate rate for production workers, and the Japanese I believe have it for students.

With all of that pressure and then being a woman in a male dominated society I guess things fall through the cracks.

It's also not a very well represented trait to stick your head up in the firing line and say "well I worked on that and I thought we were onto something"

And the popular press? Well they do anything for a story.

I hope her mistakes were just an unfortunate accumulation of slip ups and not the result of ill intent, and I'm personally happy to postpone my opinion until the facts surface.

I've worked with quite a few Japenese over the years and every one of them has had a very strong sense right, honour and ethic with a sprinkling of human frailties (yep, we're all human :-)) so I think it will end up being better than this initial portrail.

Sheetal.Pandey
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Re: Women in Science
Sheetal.Pandey   4/15/2014 6:56:27 AM
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I support that women angle. Its quite difficult to set the facts right if your are a woman in these societies. If it was US, woman would be given fair chance and woman would also not let herself become victim.

Etmax
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Re: Women in Science
Etmax   4/16/2014 7:31:29 AM
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I took an important position in a company a few years back and part of the intro was a Dunn & Bradstreet personality test. I took the test in Singapore and there were around 20 Singaporeans as well as 5 Americans and myself (Australian)

The outcome was that all 20 Singaporeans were within 2-3% of each other in the various traits that were measured, and the other six were all over the place with variations up to 60%, an indication of the individuality so prevalent in Anglo/American/Autralian society.

My guess would be that some 80-90% of Japanese would be within 10% of each other.

I'm not putting that forward as a negative by any stretch of the imagination, just highlighting the different levels of cohesion between Asia and the west.

I means that they are less likely to go against accepted tradition instead largely following cultural norms.

The inventor of the Blue LED was one of those right outside the box, he challenged his company for rights to his invention which was very "un-Japanese" if I may say that certainly not meaning disrespect. It will take decades I believe before most individuals flourish (as individual that is) in Japan, but then they will be much more prepared to voice their opinions even when unpopular an dI think these types of scandals will be a thing of the past.

I hope no one takes offense to what I am saying, it is only intended as a causal analysis of various cultural aspects that possibly underlie this scandal.

junko.yoshida
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Re: Women in Science
junko.yoshida   4/16/2014 12:15:13 PM
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@Etmax, I usually refrain from broad generalizations as a rule of thumb for a journalist, but I thnk you have a point here. It will take decades for "individualism" to get rooted in Asian culture. I still believe that the scandal itself was triggered by a sloppiness in the papers submitted by the scientist, but the way the mob attack took place on her is definitely rooted to the lack of individualism among the Japanese people and the Japanese media.

Etmax
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Re: Women in Science
Etmax   4/17/2014 6:51:14 AM
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Dear Junko, I too try to avoid broad generalisations as they generally don't give a good picture of the ones outside the box. That said, deep rooted cultural differences between groups are a useful tool for understanding what is going on in the human world.

The problem is that too many people become too dogmatic about it all and forget that even an accurate generalisation may only be true for as few as 10% of any group. Also they forget that there are very few totally wrong standpoints, all have been honed through the ages to address a particular range of issues relating to every day life.

I come from an extremely multicultural family (Italian, French, Hungarian, Russian, German) and I never say anything of course but I smile as I see the little matches light up :-)

I guess really all I'm saying is I understand why these things go on, that is the thought processes that leads to them and while I may have a different view or would take a different path, It's ok I get it.

Re the decades for individualism to pervade all, the increasing mixing of people from everywhere will see to that :-) There may be a time not too far ahead where the country in which you go to university will be as natural a choice as what cuisine you prefer.

junko.yoshida
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Re: Women in Science
junko.yoshida   4/17/2014 11:00:43 AM
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@Etmax, you wrote:

The problem is that too many people become too dogmatic about it all and forget that even an accurate generalisation may only be true for as few as 10% of any group. Also they forget that there are very few totally wrong standpoints, all have been honed through the ages to address a particular range of issues relating to every day life.


What a thoughtful observation. Thanks. I totally agree!

Etmax
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Re: Women in Science
Etmax   4/17/2014 12:10:14 PM
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Hi Junko, I'll never forget while working at NEC (Nippon Electric Corp) in the '80's I was talking about something, can't remember exactly what and the subject somehow got onto people that had done us some wrong, and this guy suggested any race was ok except for those damned Indians (not native Americans), that were such (expletive).

I said "well how many Indians have done you wrong?" and he mentioned one person that had done something not well received, to which I said "so from a sample of one they are all bad??" I suggested there were another 700 million to choose from (it was the '80's). I then asked how many people had done him wrong and he listed I think 2 of his own countrymen, to which I said well then by your own standard your countrymen are worse don't you think? He changed his stance after that, I hope it stayed with him.

It was basically a case of him coming from Asia and having been brought up with a whole lot of predudices and carried them with him to Australia that is as much of a hotch potch as the USA and peoples he had not encountered or heard much of back home were ok, but the cultural background entrenched some strong reservations of the old.

That personality trait I am afraid is global. What I call intolerance to difference, and indifference to tolerance :-)

junko.yoshida
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Re: Women in Science
junko.yoshida   4/17/2014 12:24:25 PM
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@Etmax, very well put. I love people like you who would challenge those who express predjudice (mostly out of ignorance and inexperience in dealing with a variety of people with different backgrounds).

Instead of writing them off as being ignorant, we do need to ask them questions -- just like you did. I applaud that effort and I keep reminding myself that I need to do the same.  

Etmax
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Re: Women in Science
Etmax   4/17/2014 1:34:10 PM
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Junko, I grew up as the underdog, bullied daily at school and beaten often. It made me  mindful of what people go through and now I become the dog with a bone when I think someone is travelling through life with defective attitudes. I don't doubt that sometimes my reasoning may be defective, which is why I prefer to have people ask themselves the questions I do. They will then either put their questions to me setting me on the straight and narrow or alternatively at the very least rethink their own position.

takakimf
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Obokata Haruko and Riken
takakimf   5/10/2014 9:29:13 AM
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I agree with the Junko Yoshida's position that Riken had acted hastily in making decision on the Haruko Obokata's articles in the Nature Journal.  Riken's action had muddied the great tradition of Japanese science program, and the entire Riken committee members should resign from their posts.  Riken has no right to destroy the future of young Japanese scientist by making an accusation damaging to her credential without a thorough investigation.  IMHO there was no detailed proof produced by the Riken committee to support their position that the Nature articles were falsified.  The problematic items that Riken had pointed out had nothing to do with the key findings that Haruko Obokata wanted to convey to the world scientific community.  Haruko Obokata did not say that her STAP is easy to replicate.  She asked that other scientists experiment her methodology to perfect this area of science for curing difficult disease.  Her experiment was witnessed by folks at Harvard and is not her imagination.  Haruko Obokata's apology in her press conference should not be perceived as admission of guilt.  It should be accepted as her sincerity in her dedication to STAP project, and that she was being truthful.  Haruko Obotaka was courageous.  The scientists worldwide should give her as much support as possible to take unnecessary pressure off of her, and erase incorrect image of women in science.



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