Nature relates a case of a convicted science cheat attempting to rehabilitate himself.

last August, the University of Tokyo announced that five of Watanabe’s papers contained manipulated images and improperly merged data sets that amounted to scientific misconduct. One of those papers has since been retracted and two have been corrected. Two others have corrections under consideration, according to Watanabe. Another university investigation into nine other papers found no evidence of misconduct.

ok, pretty standard stuff. Dude busted for manipulating images. Five papers involved so it isn’t just a one time oopsie.

Watanabe says that the university’s investigation made him aware of “issues concerning contrast in pictures and checking original imaging files”. He says, however, that he did not intend to deceive and that the issues did not affect the main conclusions of the papers.

They always claim that. Oh, it doesn’t change the results so it isn’t fraud. Oh? Well if you needed that to get the paper accepted (and by definition you did) then it was fraud. Whether it changes the overall conclusions or whether (as is claimed in other cases) the data can be legitimately re-created is immaterial to the fraud.

Julia Cooper, a molecular biologist at the US National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, says that data manipulation is never acceptable. But she thinks the sanctions were too harsh and incommensurate with the degree of wrongdoing. “Yoshinori absolutely deserves a second chance,” she says.

This is, of course, the central question for today’s discussion. Should we let science cheats re-enter science? Can they be “rehabilitated”? Should they be?

Uhlmann is unsure whether it will make a difference. He commends Watanabe’s willingness to engage with his retraining, but says “we will only know at the end of it whether his heart is where his mouth is”.

Watanabe emphasizes that his willingness to embark on the training and acknowledgement that he made errors is evidence that he will change his ways.

Fascinating, right? Watanabe says the investigation brought it to his attention that he was doing something wrong and he claims it as an “error” rather than saying “yeah, man, I faked data and I got caught”. Which one of these attitudes do you think predict a successful rehabilitation?

and, where should such a person receive their rehabilitation?

[Watanabe is] embarking on an intensive retraining programme with Nobel prizewinner Paul Nurse in London.

Nurse, who mentored Watanabe when he was a postdoctoral researcher in the 1990s, thinks that the biologist deserves the opportunity to redeem himself. “The research community and institutions need to think more about how to handle rehabilitation in cases like this,” says Nurse, a cell biologist and director of the Francis Crick Institute in London. Nurse declined to comment further on the retraining.

So. He’s going to be “rehabilitated” by the guy who trained him as a postdoc and this supervisor refuses to comment on how this rehabilitation is to be conducted or, critically, evaluated for success.


H/t a certain notorious troll