The suicide of Yoshiki Sasai - no more witch-hunts please
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:
Sasai suicide is horrifying. The stakes are just not that high. We are in a bad moment in the culture of science in so many ways.— Michael Hendricks (@MHendr1cks) August 5, 2014
So very very sad! My sincere sympathy to Sasai's family. Community lost a great developmental biologist!— Kenneth Lee (@ProfessorKenLee) August 5, 2014
@erikwestin I'm horrified... can't sleep now— Alexey Bersenev (@cells_nnm) August 5, 2014
If this were how the scientific community reacted to every failure to replicate a new discovery, no one would dream of being a scientist.— Grαnt (@usethespacebar) August 5, 2014
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.