Disgraced scientist Haruko Obokata, who was accused of research misconduct after her high-profile work on so-called STAP stem cells was debunked in 2014, says she has received offers from American and German scientists to continue her research.
Obokata was featured in an interview in the latest issue of Fujin Koron, a twice-monthly women’s magazine, which hit newsstands Tuesday. The interview, conducted by well-known novelist Jakucho Setouchi, is the first media exposure for Obokata, 32, since she disappeared from the limelight following her dismissal from the government-backed Riken institute in December 2014.
“I have received encouraging letters from researchers overseas I have never met,” Obokata told Setouchi. “They say I should leave Japan by all means. It’s amazing, but I get letters of invitation from research institutions abroad, including ones in America and Germany.”
Setouchi, an outspoken writer and Buddhist nun, takes a sympathetic tone with Obokata throughout the interview, which the magazine said was conducted in Kyoto. But Obokata, who said she rarely goes out except to visit her doctor for depression treatment, showed reservations when nudged to explore her options, saying she “does not feel qualified” to continue in the research field.
Dressed in a white, lace-layered one-piece, Obokata also said she wrote “That Day,” a memoir recounting her ordeal that was published in January, as “a story of lost love.”
She says that the scandal robbed her of her “love” — her passion for research into STAP cells, or those that have stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency.
“The subject of my love was so big, so beautiful …” she said. “(My love) never opened up to me. It was closed in front of me. I lost my love indeed.”
In the seven-page magazine interview, Obokata refers to the ferocity of “male jealousy” in the field of science, where major research posts are often occupied by men.
“I might be bashed again if I mention ‘male jealousy,’ but the attacks from men were completely different in nature from ‘bullying’ by women. It was extremely violent, and I thought I would be killed,” she said without elaborating.