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SPECIAL REPORT The Battle against Scientific Fraud A SPECIAL REPORT BY YAROSLAV PIGENET AND LYDIA BEN YTZHAK, ASSISTED BY LUCIENNE LETELLIER 1. http://www.cnrs.fr/comets/IMG/pdf/guide_promouvoir_une_recherche_inte_gre_et_responsable_8septembre2014.pdf 19 WINTER 2015 N° 36 O n the morning of August 5, 2014, Yoshiki Sasai, a pioneer in stem cell research who was once considered for the Nobel Prize, was found hanged in his laboratory at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe (Japan). His suicide was motivated by a suspicion of fraud, widely discussed on the Web. The case had started five months earlier and just led to the  retraction  of two articles he co-signed in Nature magazine. An internal investigation at RIKEN had in fact proven Sasai innocent, but found his colleague and article co-author Haruko Obokata guilty of manipulating data. Sasai still came under severe criticism for not properly supervising the research carried out within his own laboratory. Beyond the scandal, shock, and sense of waste, the tragic outcome of this affair highlighted two important facts: first, that science is not immune to fraud, and second, that the phenomenon, sometimes exacerbated by the competitive nature of research, can have consequences that far exceed the mere retraction of an article. While not all incidents of scientific misconduct end in the death of one of the protagonists, “repeated revelations of fraud in the media, especially the rare but sensational cases of falsified results, are detrimental to the scientific community in terms of image and credibility,” points out Michèle Leduc, chairperson of the CNRS Ethics Committee (COMETS), which has just published a guide to promote good practice and scientific integrity.1 Worse still, fraud undermines the very purpose of science, which is to build a body of reliable knowledge. And yet, despite a genuine awareness of the problem, silence is still golden whenever a laboratory is suspected of fraud. The presumption of innocence, fear of scandal, or will to preserve their institution’s reputation, prevent many researchers from discussing incidents of misconduct that they have witnessed. With rare exceptions, those who do either do so anonymously or come forward long after the facts have been disclosed by others. The following report investigates the causes, extent, and consequences of this shameful dysfunction of science, as well as the measures being implemented to eradicate it. ii Y. P. © ILLUSTRATION : J. GERNER POUR CNRS LE JOURNAL RETRACTION A public statement by the author of a published article and/or its publisher, repudiating all or part of its content.


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