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Whistleblower Uses YouTube to Assert Claims of Scientific Misconduct

An anonymous whistleblower has created a YouTube video that details alleged duplication of images by a prominent Japanese scientist.

Alleged image fraud by Kato lab at the University of Tokyo

The nearly 6-minute video, complete with background music, presents a series of still shots of over 60 allegedly duplicated and manipulated images in 24 papers, including 19 instances in a single publication, by a group led by molecular signaling specialist Shigeaki Kato of the University of Tokyo's Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences. The publications go back to 2001, include numerous co-authors, and have appeared in Nature, Cell, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and other journals. The information is also posted on Web sites in English and Japanese.

ScienceInsider tracked down the whistleblower using an e-mail address connected to a blog linked to the Japanese version of the video. A man who said he posted the video agreed to a phone interview and later answered additional questions by e-mail. He asked to be identified by his online handle, "Juuichi Jigen."

Juuichi Jigen means "11 dimensions" in Japanese. The phrase is taken from a case of misconduct (English, Japanese) the whistleblower had written about on his blog that involved a researcher who claimed to have developed an "11-dimensional theory of the universe." According to University of Tokyo press releases, that scientist, Serkan Anilir, plagiarized numerous publications and falsified his resume. He resigned from an assistant professorship at the university in March 2010.

Jigen, who claims to be a life science researcher in the private sector, says his interest in scientific misconduct began in late 2010 when he couldn't reproduce results reported by a researcher at Dokkyo Medical University in Mibu, Tochigi Prefecture. "This wasted time and money," he says. After documenting problems with the papers, Jigen notified the university and posted all the evidence on a Web site. According to local press reports gathered on Jigen's Web site, the researcher resigned his position. Many of his papers have been retracted, according to the Retraction Watch Web site.

Jigen has created separate Web sites for half a dozen cases in Japan in which he alleges scientific misconduct has occurred, and last week he posted details of what he believes is a case of image manipulation by researchers at a U.S. institution. The sites often include information about major grants and significant awards won by the scientist in question and any press releases from the institutions involved. The allegations against Kato are the first time Jigen has produced a video. He had previously used slide shows to make his point.

Jigen says he began looking into Kato's publications after a colleague told him about a correction to a 2009 Nature paper that appeared in October 2011. Several images "were inadvertently duplicated or erroneously created during figure assembly," the correction notice reads. Jigen and his colleague then examined 24 papers from the Kato group and spotted the allegedly problematic images.

Jigen says they notified the university earlier this month and were subsequently told that there would be an investigation. Responding to a query from ScienceInsider, university spokesman Eiichiro Iizuka e-mailed a statement saying, "the university is conducting preliminary investigations, including these former retractions," in accordance with its regulations on standards of conduct in scientific research. "As this investigation is ongoing, we are not able to offer further comment at this time." Kato did not respond to an e-mail or return a phone call seeking comment.

Two months before the correction appeared in Nature, Kato's group retracted two papers that had appeared in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in March 2007 and May 2004. In both cases, the articles were retracted "at the request of the authors as they had plagiarized the majority of their paper" from their own previously published work, according to the retraction notices. Jigen says he was aware of the earlier retractions but did not have any role in uncovering the problem.