Investigation of Japanese Papers Entangles University President

TOKYO—The list of scientists who must regret co-authoring papers with University of the Ryukyus virologist Naoki Mori now includes the president of the university. Mori and colleagues have already retracted 20 papers over the past year, according to Retraction Watch. Yesterday, the university announced that an external investigating committee has concluded that yet another Mori paper shows evidence of "fraudulent conduct."

A university statement provided to ScienceInsider does not identify the paper. However, Mori confirmed in an e-mail that the problematic publication is "Downregulation of citrin, a mitochondrial AGC, is associated with apoptosis of hepatocytes," which appeared in the 28 December 2007 issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. Mori is the corresponding author. Co-authors include Teruo Iwamasa, now president of University of the Ryukyus. During a press conference yesterday, Iwamasa apologized for his involvement with the paper but denied any knowledge of the problematic content, according to local newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo.

Mori confirmed for ScienceInsider that the point of contention is the reuse of beta‑actin RT‑PCR images from previous papers, the same problem that led to the other retractions. He has agreed to retract the paper. But as of the time of this posting, there is no note of retraction attached to the paper's abstract on the journal's Web site.

An internal committee initially included it on a list of possibly problematic papers but later reversed itself and declared the paper OK. But in response to questions raised by the local press, the school asked a panel of experts from outside the university to take a second look. The members of the external committee were not identified. The university's statement says it does not intend to reopen disciplinary investigations. It does intend, however, to study how to prevent research misconduct.

Problems with Mori's papers began surfacing a year ago. The university dismissed him for misconduct last August. But in a court mediated settlement his dismissal was cut to a 10-month suspension. He returned to his university post last Monday. In his e-mail to ScienceInsider, he said he intends "to correct all the papers" and resubmit them elsewhere if the original journals reject his corrections.

*This item has been corrected. The point of contention in the retracted pages is the reuse of beta‑actin RT‑PCR images, not Western blots.