What is Good Science: A response to the New Yorker article “The Stress Test”

What is Good Science: A response to the New Yorker article “The Stress Test”

By Lehanna Sanders, Vanderbilt University, Hatzopoulos Hub 11

Illustration by Chad Hagen

Competitive Nature in Biomedical Science

A February New Yorker article, “The Stress Test”, featured a discussion on the STAP (“stress” or “stimulus” triggered acquisition of pluripotency) phenomenon that made headlines two years ago.  Dr. Charles Vicanti, an anesthesiologist, recognized in the stem cell field for the ‘ear mouse’ and Haruko Obakata, a post-doc in his lab, claimed that treating cells with mildly acidic ATP led to pluripotency.  Yoshiki Sasai, who penned the name STAP, assisted in obtaining a favorable reception at Nature.  Following a grueling investigation, Dr. Obakata was hospitalized for depression; the paper was retracted; and Dr. Sasai committed suicide, all of which are great losses.  Furthermore, the author of this New Yorker article goes so far as to state that stem cell biology is a “ruthlessly competitive field susceptible to fantasy.” I disagree. What do you think?

Reproducibility and Accountability are Important Issues in Science

Reproducibility is essential to science as an antidote to “over- selling” of the data or forcing a narrative to make sense of results.  Although, we often judge science based on the tier of the publishing journal, the power of blogging was well illustrated in STAP.  It was a blogger who first contacted Dr. Vicanti with questions regarding the published work on STAP. Brandon Stell pointed out; journals may not evaluate data stringently enough to avoid paper retraction. Do you think that more accountability should be required of journals to ensure validity?

The PCBC’s Dr. George Daley enlisted the help of an international group of collaborators to try to reproduce the STAP work.   This group discovered that the observations described by Drs. Vicanti and Obakata were artifacts.  What do you do to prevent being thrown off track by artifacts?



The work conducted by Dr. Daley and colleagues will be the topic of the next blog post. 

Comments welcome.


Copyright ©2013 NHLBI Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium.

University of Maryland School of Medicine logo

National Heart Blood and Lung Institute logo