Obokata’s motives will never be completely clear. Prior

Obokata’s motives will never
be completely clear. Prior to these papers being published, she was already a well
respected scientist in Japan. However, following publication, her reputation
grew exponentially and she was dubbed a potential competitor for the Nobel
Prize. It is possible that she longed to make a ground-breaking discovery to
gain more respect in the community, or to gain an honour as prestigious as the
Nobel Prize. However, as the head of the Cellular Reprogramming Laboratory at
RIKEN, it is likely that Obokata was under constant pressure to consistently produce
high quality papers, boasting novel results. Perhaps her misconduct simply
stemmed from a need to prove to RIKEN that she was a worthy employee in a
competitive field.

However, there is no doubt
that her actions were unethical. Scientific papers are assumed to be factual
and evidence-based; to publish false information, particularly information that
may be used in the medical field, is inexcusable. Medical professionals trust
findings such as Obokata’s, using them to produce new treatments and drugs, and
these decisions have a profound impact on patients. In publishing this paper,
Obokata ultimately broke this trust, and had her findings not been challenged,
the fallout could have proven to be very dangerous.

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Pluripotent stem cells have
many far-reaching uses across the field of healthcare, and Obokata’s simple
method of production would have revolutionised this aspect of medicine, saving
time, money and helping more patients. It is in this sense that Obokata’s
claims were extremely unethical, as they undoubtedly gave false hope to many. It
cannot be argued that Obokata is complicit in the devastating consequences of
the fallout from this scandal.

Regarding the handling of the
case by scientific institutions and journals, RIKEN’s swift inquiry did a great
deal to underline faults within the papers. Each author was investigated, and
Obokata was rightly given the chance to redeem herself by attempting to
replicate her initial results. Nature
described in the paper’s retraction notes their well-established procedures for
examining papers, stating that ‘they have launched several initiatives to
improve their own rigour’. The misleading nature of these papers could not
have been detected by editors or peer reviews – issues only became clear when
scientists tried to replicate Obokata’s work. Overall, these institutions
reacted to this misconduct per their existing policies and procedures, as well
as seeking to expand on these considering any oversights related to the case.

 

The media storm surrounding
the scandal only served to exacerbate the issue. Obokata had to attend a taxing
press conference, broadcast live on television. The scientists involved in the
scandal were relentlessly scrutinised, causing severe stress, anxiety and
depression; which, in Obokata and Sasai’s cases, lead to hospitalisation. The
topic of shame was prevalent in the headlines, with comments that Sasai’s
suicide was an ‘honourable’ way out. Although it was important for Obokata’s
case to be investigated and reported on, the involvement of the media had a
detrimental effect on the mental health of those involved, doing nothing to
remedy the situation.

 

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