The suicide of Yoshiki Sasai - no more witch-hunts please

Lenny Teytelman Aug 05, 2014

I am shaken, devastated, and heartbroken to learn that Dr. Yoshiki Sasai commited suicide yesterday. It's difficult to compose my thoughts right now, but I won't be able to fall asleep if I don't write this. Dr. Sasai was the deputy director of Riken Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) and the senior author on the retracted STAP papers. I am an outsider to this field and have zero insider knowledge on the scandal. But I have watched in horror for months the witch-hunt around these two papers.

Here are some of the immediate responses to this tragedy:

As I watched this unfold, I genuinely feared it would come to this (I told my wife a while ago, "I hope Obokata is on suicide watch.") When I read the report that RIKEN CDB could be shut down, I was stunned and wrote:

Shutting down an institute is simple but unhelpful. We shouldn't shut down RIKEN/Harvard/MIT. We should fix Academia instead.

By far, the most astute thoughts on this entire STAP scandal came from Arjun Raj. He has consistently called for everyone to calm down since April. "Why is everyone piling on that poor STAP stem cell woman? It’s just a paper, people." and "Why is everyone STILL piling on that STAP woman?" and here.

Perhaps something good can come out of this tragedy. Perhaps we can tone down our vitriol and focus on the science. Most of what is published is incorrect. And it's okay because the progress of science is all about correcting and improving. There are many things we need to improve in biomedical research and academia. There's a lot we can do to increase reproducibility and to decrease the pressures that lead to retractions. But the witch-hunts are not the solution. Let's always keep in mind that there are humans behind the science. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. We don't need to give the research the benefit of the doubt necessarily; we need to verify and test. But when it comes to fraud and accusations - let's hold oursevles back.