Now almost a year and a half after the deeply flawed papers first were published, where do things stand?
As an international collaboration there were both American and Japanese sides to STAP.
In the US, STAP still remains eerily quiet.
There has been no public disclosure as to whether (or if) there was or is an institutional investigation into the possible roles of Vacanti and his trainee Koji Kojima in the fiasco that ultimately led to the retraction of two Nature papers.
In contrast, in Japan there have already been many serious repercussions for the STAP cell authors including Haruko Obokata, who was forced out of RIKEN after she couldn’t reproduce STAP. See a full STAP cell timeline here.
Just recently it was announced that Obokata has been forced to repay the publication fees for the Nature papers. Not a big deal in it of itself, but still just another repercussion for her. The same article quoted an Obokata attorney that her physical condition is a concern.
Overall there has been and continues to be this tension between the reaction to STAP in the US and in Japan.
Well beyond Obokata, many other researchers in Japan have been negatively affected by the fallout from STAP. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it a scientific disaster. In the US, there has been pretty much no apparent fallout. Who knows, it may stay that way.
In the mean time the retracted STAP papers have become in a relatively short period extremely highly cited publications (e.g. 160 citations for one on GoogleScholar). A brief look makes clear that not all those citations are referring to the papers as an example of what can go wrong either. Some are referring to the supposed science as if it was real, which is pretty sad.
We also never really did hear any meaningful discussion of STAP from Nature either. They pretty much sidestepped any responsibility. Hopefully they have brought online a more rigorous manuscript evaluation system like the one used by EMBO.
Brigham and Women’s and Harvard face another stem cell hot potato in the controversy related to the work of cardiac stem cell researcher Piero Anversa. In that case the institution(s) did investigate and Anversa has sued them over how the investigation was handled. To my knowledge that situation remains unresolved.
Could this other situation be a factor in how those two linked institutions view STAP? Again, for all we know there never was an investigation of Vacanti’s or Kojima’s potential roles in STAP.
As more time passes, I don’t think necessarily it means that the STAP issue will go away on this side of the world. Without more information on how the STAP story evolved here in the US, it seems to me that the STAP issue overall cannot have full clarity and the lessons from it are incomplete. More facts and transparency on how that project developed are needed still. Will that ever happen? I don’t know.