Bioethics Blogs

STAP Scientist Stripped of PhD

The STAP stem cell fiasco still continues. In January 2014, Haruko Obokata in
the Center for Developmental Biology at RIKEN in Kobe, Japan reported that she
was able to convert mouse cells to a pluripotent state in a very simplistic
fashion by exposing cells to stress. This procedure was called stimulus
triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). Soon after its publication,
allegations of plagiarism, and figure manipulation and duplication were
reported. Other researchers were unable to reproduce the STAP experiments and
it seemed that the STAP cells were the result of contamination (Cyranoski,
2015). An investigative committee at RIKEN found Obokata had committed research
misconduct while she defends her results admitting to sloppy science but not
deliberate misconduct.

Shortly
after the scandal was reported, Waseda University, where Obokata received her
doctorate, revoked her PhD on a probationary basis. The concerns over Obokata’s
thesis surrounded plagiarism and inaccuracies (Cook, 2015). The University
however made multiple efforts to help Obokata redo her dissertation by
providing revision instructions and required she take an online ethics training
course which she completed. And while some revisions to the thesis were made,
these were insufficient to satisfy the Graduate School of Advanced Science and
Engineering which decided on October 30 this year to deny a request for an
extension and revoked her doctorate.

Obokata
claimed the decision to be unfair and her lawyer went further to say that this
decision to revoke her PhD was put forward more from social pressure than
academic reasons (Charolidi, 2015).

It seems
ethically appropriate to remove a doctorate degree in cases of research
misconduct, especially when there are questionable experiments or plagiarism in
the thesis.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.