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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Research Misconduct in East Asia’s Research Environments (Papers: Hee-Je Bak | June 2018)

Published/Released on June 01, 2018 | Posted by Admin on April 6, 2019 / , , ,

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High-profile cases of scientific misconduct, such as the Hwang scandal in South Korea, the Obokata scandal in Japan, and the growing number of retracted papers written by Chinese scientists have led to a new interest in research misconduct in East Asia. Since research misconduct is by no means rare in the history of science, some observers may view them merely as indicative of increased research activity in this region. From this perspective, research misconduct tends to result in blaming and punishing individual scientists. However, if we subscribe to the precept of STS that scientists’ behavior is embedded in their social and cultural contexts, we may use research misconduct to apprehend the distinctive social and cultural contexts of scientific practices. In other words, the investigation of research misconduct in East Asia is a valuable opportunity for the STS community to discuss the social and cultural environment that shapes research practices in this region. Drawing on three cases of research misconduct in Japan, South Korea, and China, this special issue highlights the social and cultural environments surrounding each case rather than the scientific misconduct itself.

Local biologicals are a promising way of capturing the influence of social and cultural environments of a specific location on scientific practices. Sarah Franklin has explained stem cell science as a global biological enterprise interwoven with local biologicals. She described a local biological as practices in stem cell science that reflect “specific national and economic priorities, moral and civic values, and technoscientific institutional cultures” (Franklin 2005, 61).

Using the concept of local and global biologicals, Koichi Mikami’s article in this issue highlights the importance of social and institutional culture to understand a case of research misconduct. She addresses the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cell scandal, often called the Obokata scandal, in Japan where Haruko Obokata and her colleagues at RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) published two papers in Nature on a new method to reprogram differentiated somatic cells to be pluripotent, or capable of becoming any type of cell in the body, but soon these papers were retracted. Mikami focuses on how Japan’s socioinstitutional culture influences the reactions of society to Obokata’s claim of the existence of STAP cells, instead of her individual misbehavior. She notes the influence of Shinya Yamanaka’s success on stem cell science in Japan. Obokata’s work attracted media attention in Japan partly because it claimed to extend Yamanaka’s work on iPS cells. As a Nobel Prize winner, Yamanaka was a young hero in Japan and brought high expectations for stem cell research not only in the stem cell research community but also in the Japanese government and the public. According to Mikami, the initial enthusiasm for Obokata and her colleagues’ successful experiment on STAP cells reflected the high expectation for stem cell research in Japan since Yamanaka’s success in 2007, which constitutes a local biological.

Bak, HJ. (2018) Research Misconduct in East Asia’s Research Environments. East Asian Science, Technology and Society 12 (2): 117-122.
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