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Saturday, March 14, 2015

What pushes scientists to lie? The disturbing but familiar story of Haruko Obokata

By John Rasko and Carl Power
The Guardian
Originally posted February 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Two obvious reasons spring to mind. First, unbelievable carelessness. Obokata drew suspicion upon her Nature papers by the inept way she manipulated images and plagiarised text. It is often easy to spot such transgressions, and the top science journals are supposed to check for them; but it is also easy enough to hide them. Nature’s editors are scratching their heads wondering how they let themselves be fooled by Obokata’s clumsy tricks. However, we are more surprised that she didn’t try harder to cover her tracks, especially since her whole career was at stake.

Second, hubris. If Obokata hadn’t tried to be a world-beater, chances are her sleights of hand would have gone unnoticed and she would still be looking forward to a long and happy career in science. Experiments usually escape the test of reproducibility unless they prove something particularly important, controversial or commercialisable. Stap cells tick all three of these boxes. Because Obokata claimed such a revolutionary discovery, everyone wanted to know exactly how she had done it and how they could do it themselves. By stepping into the limelight, she exposed her work to greater scrutiny than it could bear.

The entire article is here.