Stem cell scientist Sasai commits suicide

Yesterday, it appears that stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai committed suicide. Sasai, as head investigator, was involved in the recent stem-cell paper retraction though he did not appear to have been a part of the fraud itself:

He titled his missive, “Apology regarding the paper retractions.” He wrote: “I am deeply ashamed of the fact that two papers of which I am an author were found to contain multiple errors and, as a result, had to be retracted.”

Part of what so shamed him, he said, was his failure as a mentor. “As a deputy director of our center, with responsibility for nurturing young researchers, I feel a deep responsibility for what has happened…”

Sasai was devastated by the retraction, saying in his letter that “it has become increasingly difficult to call the STAP phenomenon even a promising hypothesis.”

But Obokata hasn’t given up. She’s trying to replicate the research under video surveillance at the same institution where Sasai apparently committed suicide.

There are two really good comments on this tragedy so far. The first is a deeply personal story from Michael Eisen:

I don’t know all of the details, but the parallels between the two cases are haunting. As was the case with my father, it does not seem like anyone thinks Sasai was involved in the fraud. But as the senior scientists involved, both Sasai and my father bore the brunt of the institutional criticism, and both seem to have been far more disturbed by it than the people who actually committed the fraud.

It is impossible to know why they both responded to situations where they apparently did nothing wrong by killing themselves. But it is hard for me not to place at least part of the blame on the way the scientific community responds to scientific misconduct.

Read it and think about it. In a similar vein, rxnm on the pressures that cause this misconduct:

And what about everyone else? Journals, colleagues, scientists, journalists? Do we really need hero narratives? The splashy results that will “change everything”? The hype machine it is out of fucking control. We are adopting the language of biz-speak bullshit and starting to buy into these empty non-values about techno-utopian revolutionaries and lone geniuses. We all participate in the culture of valuing glam, prestige, prizes. Who gets the 8-figure grants while everyone else struggles to stay afloat? Who can I get a selfie with at SfN? Who gets to stamp their name all over the culmination of decades of work by hundreds or thousands? We’ve become cultish: around people, journals, technologies, institutions. As if these are things that matter more than the colleagues around us, or our own integrity. It’s pathetic, and we can be better.


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