On vigorous scientific debates, witch hunts, and the tragedy of suicide

There is an urgent need of rethinking the way we do science.

Retraction Watch

logoThe suicide earlier this week of Yoshiki Sasai, one of the scientists who worked on the now-discredited STAP stem cell work, was a startling and sobering reminder to the research community and the public that misconduct can take a heavy human toll – even on people like Sasai, whom by all accounts only had the misfortune of working with a dishonest colleague.

The tension surrounding this case and others was well-captured by University of California, Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen, who himself lost his father, also a scientist, to suicide in 1987 in a case that he said had haunting parallels to Sasai’s:

Obviously, fraud is a terrible thing. Nothing provides as deep an existential threat to the scientific enterprise than making up data. But as bad as it is, there is something deeply ugly about the way the scientific community responds to misconduct. We need to deal swiftly with fraud when it is…

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