Editorial: Past Time for Nature to Retract STAP Cell Papers & Open Up On Review Problems

nature's misstapTwo stem cell papers riddled with errors, with figures that resulted from potential misconduct, with plagiarism, and with other serious problems remain uncorrected and unretracted in the prestigious journal Nature.

It is well past time for the journal to editorially retract them.

It was about four months ago that Nature published the two astonishing STAP papers reporting the supposed creation of super-powerful stem cells (known variously as STAP cells or STAP stem cells) via simple methods such as weak acid treatment.

Since their publication, it’s been all down hill for these papers.

As soon as they came out I posted a review raising key questions about them related to puzzling issues.

Within a week I was the first scientist to publicly raised serious doubts about the papers. I gave the top 5 reasons to doubt the papers.

Within a few more weeks there were signs that the STAP papers were seriously compromised and one senior author, Teru Wakayama, himself called for their retraction.

To this day, nobody has gotten the STAP method to work and perhaps even more importantly, it is clear that both papers are irredeemable due to many serious and unfixable problems.

And yet they still remain uncorrected and unretracted in Nature.


Could the journal be holding out some hope that someone somewhere will get the STAP method to work? If so, the journal leadership should realize that it’s too late for that to save the papers.

Is the journal going through some slow process of investigation that it wants to finish before retracting the papers? I don’t know, but time is ticking away and there is no apparent reason for further delay.

Are they just hoping that as months go by fewer people will care about STAP?

Whatever the reason, it is well past time for Nature to editorially retract these tainted papers. There is nothing more to be learned that could save the papers and every day that passes with them still in the Nature portfolio is a shame.

Making matters worse, there is no apparent sign that Nature is taking the STAP problem to heart as it pertains to its own role in the debacle and the flaws in its own manuscript review process. For example, Nature recently published an editorial harshly criticizing Japan for its science related scandals and in that piece Nature mentioned the STAP scandal as an example, but it did not mention a role for Nature itself in the STAP mess that might need discussion and action. And of course the STAP papers included America’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, not just Japan.

It’s time for Nature to get real on STAP.

Retract the STAP papers and publicly discuss what went wrong.

The journal of course cannot and should not be directly blamed for any potential author misconduct, but clearly Nature has some major responsibility for the train wreck that is STAP.

You can only get so much mileage out of blaming others outside the journal as much as that blame may be appropriate.

Time for action and openness by Nature. That’s the only way for the journal to move on in a positive way.

9 thoughts on “Editorial: Past Time for Nature to Retract STAP Cell Papers & Open Up On Review Problems

    • Unfortunately, the site isn’t letting me read it without subscribing… do you have another link, or could you maybe just tell us the gist of what the article says! Thanks. :)

  1. Dr. Knoepfler , I understand your opinion, but Science never retracted the Arsenic DNA paper either, which is even more egregious than the STAP paper. In addition, Nature never retracted the ground-breaking non-mendelian inheritance paper (2005), which was simply caused by contamination. All three papers are similar in a sense that authors misinterpreted the simple contamination as something astonishing result. It’s extremely difficult to prove the contamination was intentional. If the journal decides to retract any paper whose conclusion is not reproduced by other labs, they will have to retract so many papers.

    • You may be right, Joe. Perhaps I am naive to think that Nature will retract the STAP article, but I think in this day and age there may be more pressure for it to do so.

      • But there was never any suggestion that the Arsenic life paper involved any misconduct or questionable practices.

        The conclusion was wrong but the data was entirely sound (just misinterpreted), there were no dodgy blots or plagiarism.

        AFAIK it’s the same with the non-Mendelian “hothead” plants.

        So those are very different to STAP.

  2. The paradox of Nature’s own editorial on stap scandal is enlightening! But instead of hoping for Nature openness, I think it’s really time for us to look at this journal in a different way. Institutions and funding agencies in primis.

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