STAP Papers Retracted

The two papers that appeared in the journal Nature that described the derivation of embryonic stem cell-like cells simply by exposing cells to environmental stresses have been formally retracted. In a notice of retraction from the Riken Center’s Haruko Obokata, who was the lead author of these papers, and her colleagues said that “[s]everal critical errors have been found in our Article and Letter.” The notice also pointed out that a subsequent investigation of those errors by an internal Riken Center investigation found evidence of research misconduct.

“The STAP technology, indeed, sounded too good to be true,” said Dusko Ilic, from King’s College London, to the Reuters news group. “I hoped that Haruko Obokata would prove at the end all those naysayers wrong. Unfortunately, she did not.”

In an editorial that appeared in Nature, Ivan Oransky from a blog site known as Retraction Watch, argue that it couldn’t have caught the errors. Oransky wrote: We at Nature have examined the reports about the two papers from our referees and our own editorial records,” the editorial notes. “Before publishing, we had checked that the results had been independently replicated in the laboratories of the co-authors.” Nevertheless, the journal says this incident has highlighted flaws in the peer-review publishing process.

“We — research funders, research practitioners, institutions and journals — need to put quality assurance and laboratory professionalism ever higher on our agendas, to ensure that the money entrusted by governments is not squandered, and that citizens’ trust in science is not betrayed,” it adds.

The simple fact is that reviewers examine data, figures and materials and methods, but they have no gift of ESP to determine is the authors are telling the truth.  Truth-telling and honesty are virtues without which science cannot exist.  What is the basis of honesty and truth-telling?  Well, the secular, pragmatic worldview would suggest that truth-telling works and without it we cannot do science without it.  However, if truth-telling gets the individual scientist ahead for a time, then why shouldn’t they prevaricate?  What should the individual worry about what the collective thinks or needs?

It is at this point that I must interject that the Christian worldview provides the foundation for honesty and truth-telling.  The Christian tells the truth because God is the author of all truth and is by His very nature, the truth (see John 14:6).  To not tell the truth is to dishonor God and not live in accordance with his revealed prescriptions.  Therefore, the Christian worldview explains why we should tell the truth when reporting our experiments.


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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).