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Riken panel mulls steps to prevent misconduct

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

The state-backed Riken research institute on Thursday held the first meeting of a panel set up to explore ways to prevent research data from being falsified as alleged in the STAP cell study carried out by Riken researcher Haruko Obokata.

“This committee hopes Riken, a leading Japanese scientific institution, will lead the world in the field of science technology as well as in terms of ethics,” said Innovative Structural Materials Association President Teruo Kishi, who heads the panel of six outside experts.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting at Riken’s Tokyo office, Kishi said the panel had discussed the Riken investigative committee’s report on the papers, as well as steps to prevent misconduct that the institution has already put in place.

Kishi also revealed that one member has taken issue with its name, which includes the phrase “prevention of recurrence of research misconduct,” because the conclusion of the investigative committee has yet to be finalized following Obokata’s appeal for a reinvestigation, filed Tuesday.

Kishi said it would take a month or two for the panel to come up with a proposal, which would then be submitted to Riken President Ryoji Noyori.

The meeting was held a day after Obakata, 30, made her first public appearance on the allegations and countered accusation that a potentially revolutionary research paper on pluripotent stem cells she co-authored contained two instances of falsification.

Separately on Thursday, a Riken official revealed that the institute may decide as early as next week whether to reinvestigate the STAP cell paper, as requested by Obokata.

Riken’s investigative panel, which reached its conclusion on April 1, has started procedures for assessing the complaint she filed Tuesday, the official said.

If the panel opts to reject Obokata’s complaint, Riken’s initial verdict of falsification will become final and the institute may be forced to take disciplinary action against her. If it accepts the request for reinvestigation, Riken will have 50 days to conduct it and issue its findings.

Information from Kyodo added.