Japanese stem cell research raises wider discussion on medical research ethics

Dr Steven Bradshaw, consultant at Emedits Global (http://www.emedits.com) who provide professional publication support services - specializing in medicine, bioscience and pharmaceuticals, believes the recent story concerning possible research misconduct in Japan raises wider discussions on research ethics, transparency and the support available for medical researchers publishing to a global audience. 

Dr Steven Bradshaw, consultant at Emedits Global (http://www.emedits.com) who provide professional publication support services - specializing in medicine, bioscience and pharmaceuticals, believes the recent story concerning possible research misconduct in Japan raises wider discussions on research ethics, transparency and the support available for medical researchers publishing to a global audience.

The Guardian reported a story on 1 April about a young Japanese scientific researcher Haruko Obokata who rose to fame when she published an apparently simple way to create stem cells. After others failed to reproduce the same results Haruko has been found guilty of misconduct by a committee charged with investigating her work.

Obokata authored two articles published in the scientific journal Nature in January but doubts about her findings were soon raised. Several discrepancies in her work were uncovered by researchers, these included accidental errors, plus possible plagiarism and images that appear to be manipulated. Some scientists are uneasy about the research and the potential of fraudulent work, but others are also concerned about how Obokata has been treated, especially because there is still uncertainty despite the alleged problems with the studies.

Pressure to publish

Dr Steven Bradshaw, former medical editor at the Nature Publishing Group and consultant at Emedits Global who provide professional publication support services - specializing in medicine, bioscience and pharmaceuticals, looks at the wider implications.

“The current concerns should of course be used to frame wider discussion on research ethics, transparency and the potential implications of research fraud.”

“In this case the conclusions of the investigation have come out rather quickly. Research is a very competitive arena, and there will always be suspicion of new groundbreaking findings; we have to be open to the fact that quite a few feathers were mostly likely ruffled when Dr Obokata’s work rose to eminence. We also cannot get away from the fact that scientists are not alone in conducting research and writing papers, and that senior scientists also have a duty of care to their junior colleagues, and I hope that Dr Obokata will be supported in this respect.”

“I don’t condone research fraud in any way, but hanging out scientists to dry because of accidental mistakes is also not acceptable. Research is all about trial and error, and advances in medical science wouldn’t ever happen unless we actively challenge and disprove what our peers and predecessors had previously concluded, based on whatever findings they had at that time.”

“There is particular pressure on researchers to actively publish otherwise they won't get funding. However, there needs to be emphasis on quality rather than quantity and much more support for authors whose first language is not English. There are many brilliant researchers who are hindered from communicating their findings because English is not their first language, and they often rely on translators, medical writers and editors to develop just one article, all of which takes time. Particularly for such international authors there ought to be a reconsideration of what ‘plagiarism’ actually means; particularly ‘self-plagiarism’ – is it not more important to rapidly communicate a new cure for cancer, which might mean using some of the text from the same author’s last publication to place the new findings in context, or, alternatively, delay publishing for months whilst paraphrasing sentences just to satisfy the regulators of publication ethics?”

“In fact my company Emedits Global provides consulting services to researchers to help them to get their message across to global audiences and publish in the most ethical way.”

Notes to editors:

* Dr Steven Bradshaw is a former Editor of Nature Reviews Journals and consultant at Emedits Global http://www.emedits.com/

EMEDITS provides professional publication support services - specializing in medicine, bioscience and pharmaceuticals.

** http://drstevenbradshaw.com/

*** In 2012 the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that 67.4% of retractions were attributable to scientific misconduct and 43.3% of those were potentially fraudulent.

**** Guardian article published in April 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/apr/01/stem-cell-scientist-haruko-obokata-guilty-misconduct-committee

Nina Hands

nina@contentsoup.co.uk

0113 397 9892

Dr Steven Bradshaw is a former medical editor at the Nature Publishing Group and consultant at Emedits Global which provides consulting services to researchers to help them to get their message across to global audiences and publish in the most ethical way.

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