The case of inferred doability: An analysis of the socio-institutional background of the STAP cell scandal

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Abstract

On 28 January 2014, Haruko Obokata and her colleagues held a press conference regarding their new method of producing stem cells. The cells, named STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells, were of considerable interest not only for stem cell scientists but also for the wider society in Japan because both its government and citizens enjoyed the international reputation earned for the country by Shinya Yamanaka’s earlier success in developing a novel technique of cell reprogramming. However, it was soon pointed out that the data in the research article seemed fabricated and was hence suggested that their claims lacked scientific credibility. What was initially considered another triumph of Japanese stem cell research thus resulted in a major national scandal. Instead of seeing this casemerely as one of scientificmisconduct, this article examines it as a windowinto the local culture of stemcell research and argues that the socio-institutional background ofObokata’swork incited the researchers involved to infer doability of STAP cell research. The problem with this inference surfaced after those who did not share the culture challenged the robustness of her work, suggesting some cultures of science may be more vulnerable to scientific misconduct than others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-142
Number of pages20
JournalEast Asian Science, Technology and Society
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun 1
Externally publishedYes

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scandal
stimulus
press conference
stem cell research
credibility
reputation
Japan
citizen
science

Keywords

  • Doability
  • Japan
  • Local and global biologicals
  • Regenerative medicine
  • STAP cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "On 28 January 2014, Haruko Obokata and her colleagues held a press conference regarding their new method of producing stem cells. The cells, named STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells, were of considerable interest not only for stem cell scientists but also for the wider society in Japan because both its government and citizens enjoyed the international reputation earned for the country by Shinya Yamanaka’s earlier success in developing a novel technique of cell reprogramming. However, it was soon pointed out that the data in the research article seemed fabricated and was hence suggested that their claims lacked scientific credibility. What was initially considered another triumph of Japanese stem cell research thus resulted in a major national scandal. Instead of seeing this casemerely as one of scientificmisconduct, this article examines it as a windowinto the local culture of stemcell research and argues that the socio-institutional background ofObokata’swork incited the researchers involved to infer doability of STAP cell research. The problem with this inference surfaced after those who did not share the culture challenged the robustness of her work, suggesting some cultures of science may be more vulnerable to scientific misconduct than others.",
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