In science, no less than in other human affairs, though the millstones of the gods may grind slowly, they do so surely and exceedingly fine. After a pair of research papers published in Nature instigated more than a year’s worth of accusations, investigations, and recriminations, something near closure may be at hand. The papers—published on January 29 last year and retracted about seven months later—are now motivating what may be a final round of justice.

The papers were prepared by researchers based at RIKEN and contained erroneous claims that stem cells could be generated simply and conveniently by means of stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP. Now that the STAP approach has been shown to be illusory, even fraudulent, officials at RIKEN, a collection of nationally supported research centers in Japan, have indicated the disciplinary actions their institution is taking. These measures will affect individual researchers involved in the discredited research.

On February 10, a RIKEN statement detailed the reprimands and punishments that are being accorded to the following scientists:

  • Haruko Obokata, the lead author of the papers, is receiving a “dismissal equivalent.” The rebuke was issued even though Obokata is no longer at RIKEN. She resigned last December.
  • Hitoshi Niwa, the original RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) pluripotent stem cell research project leader (and current multicellular system formation pluripotent stem cell research team leader at) is receiving a written reprimand.
  • Masatoshi Takeichi, the former head of RIKEN’s CDB, is also receiving a written reprimand. The reprimand cites “fixed-term system staff employment regulations.” To that end, the RIKEN statement adds, Takeichi “has decided to voluntary return” a portion of his salary.
  • Teruhiko Wakayama, a former RIKEN scientist who co-authored the STAP papers, is joining Obokata in receiving a dismissal equivalent. He is also losing his status as a visiting professor at RIKEN. Wakayama had accepted a position at the University of Yamanishi before the papers were published.

This measures, which encompass both principals in the scandal as well as their supervisors, and which even try to discipline those no longer under RIKEN’s authority, may not be the very end of the stem cell scandal. According to a RIKEN representative cited in Science, patent applications pertaining to the STAP technique may be withdrawn, and research funds accepted by RIKEN may be returned to the Japanese government. RIKEN, which has already announced reorganization plans in the scandal’s wake, may countenance additional administrative changes to curb scientific misconduct.

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