Another scientific scandal is brewing. University of Tokyo biochemistry professor Kazunari Taira stands accused of publishing research that can't be reproduced, and he has been stripped of teaching and lab supervision responsibilities.
Taira's numerous papers about RNA have appeared in journals including Nature and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Researchers from Japan and overseas initially alerted the RNA Society of Japan that they had doubts about the reproducibility of experiments described in Taira's publications, according to a statement on the society's website. The society notified the University of Tokyo last April that it was looking into the allegations and asked the university to take up the case.
Yoichiro Matsumoto, an engineering professor who heads the university committee investigating the allegations, says the committee has been unable to confirm that Taira fabricated his results. But Matsumoto says the ongoing investigation is challenging because "there are no raw data, no experimental protocol, nothing" to back up the experiments described in some of Taira's articles.
Taira says he has not fabricated his work and has asked the committee for more time to redo his experiments, according to Matsumoto.
ACS Publications Division President Robert D. Bovenschulte says, "ACS and its editors are deeply concerned about ethical violations and are looking for more information about this specific charge." Nature Editor-in-Chief Philip Campbell is awaiting the outcome of investigations before he'll comment about Taira's Nature papers.
Asked how journals can protect themselves, Campbell says "knowledgeable fraudsters can easily cover their tracks in a paper. Luckily, such people are very rare."