Nature Retracts Two Long-Troubled Stem Cell Papers

So you can't make stem cells so easily after all.

Photo Of A Mouse Fetus From The STAP Stem Cells Work

Haruko Obokata

The journal Nature has finally retracted two major studies it published in January, which claimed to have found new and easy ways to turn regular cells into stem cells. Not long after the papers first went online, independent scientists began noticing apparent plagiarism within them. Independent teams were unable to replicate the papers' findings. Later, a genetic test found that the stem cells described in the papers were not what the papers claimed.

All the scientists involved in the studies have now agreed to retract the papers, according to a letter Nature published online today. The letter describes what the retraction looks like:

The papers themselves have now been clearly watermarked to highlight their retracted status, but will remain hosted on Nature's website, as is consistent with our retraction policy. (In our opinion, to take down retracted papers from journal websites amounts to an attempt to rewrite history, and makes life needlessly difficult for those wishing to learn from such episodes.)

The letter continues with the results of Nature's own inquiry into whether experts at the journal should have caught these problems sooner. The journal's editors decided they couldn't have:

We have concluded that we and the referees could not have detected the problems that fatally undermined the papers. The referees' rigorous reports quite rightly took on trust what was presented in the papers.

Still, the journal is apparently making some changes, in hopes of catching poorly done and fraudulent papers in the future:

It is hoped that the extension of our methods sections, the addition of a checklist intended to improve the standards of reporting, and our use of statistical advisers will reduce these problems in Nature.

The journal published a separate article with technical details on the retraction.