The University of Tokyo.

The University of Tokyo

Perry Li/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

University of Tokyo to investigate data manipulation charges against six prominent research groups

The University of Tokyo today announced it is launching an investigation into anonymously made claims of fabricated and falsified data appearing in 22 papers by six university research groups. An individual or group going by the name "Ordinary_researchers" detailed questions about data and graphs in more than 100 pages delivered to the university in two batches on 14 and 29 August.

The university did not name the researchers or the publications that have come under suspicion, but the documents were also posted online in Japanese. They identify mostly biomedical papers that appeared in Nature, Cell, The New England Journal of Medicine, and several other journals. The corresponding author on seven of the papers is physician and diabetes specialist Takashi Kadowaki, a former director of the university hospital who's still on the faculty at the school of medicine. "This is a totally groundless and false accusation by a faceless complainant," Kadowaki told ScienceInsider in an email. "We have absolute confidence in all of our data," he wrote.

Today's announcement of a full probe came after the university conducted a preliminary investigation. The announcement emphasized that this step did not confirm any misconduct. The school's internal regulations call for half the investigative panel members to come from outside the university.

Ordinary_researchers claim to have also mailed the documents, which include details of the grants used to support the research, to the ministries of education and health, funding agencies, academic societies, and the media; the latter resulted in fairly extensive coverage of the allegations in Japan. Several commentators have noted that the lessons of past scientific scandals have apparently not been learned. "If the accusations are true, some leading laboratories in the University of Tokyo have continued falsification and fabrication [for] as long as 10 years," says Masahiro Kami, a former University of Tokyo medical researcher who is now executive director of the Tokyo-based Medical Governance Research Institute, which strives to improve the practice of medicine in Japan.