JAXA: Research simulating life onboard ISS contained fabrications

Space agency releases report alleging falsified data, researchers who weren’t there, and improper data management

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has released details of an investigation that alleged the results of an experiment simulating life on board the International Space Station were fabricated with large amounts of altered data.

The $1.4 million experiment took place between 2016 and 2017 and included 42 participants who were confined to a closed environment for two weeks and supposedly evaluated for their mental well-being and stress levels.

The experiment design included the collection of saliva, urine and blood from the participants; monitoring daily activities such as sleep quantity and quality and interactions with fellow participants; as well as interviews to assess their mental state.

However, according to JAXA, some of the interviews did not go ahead, some data was made up, and two researchers allegedly completed psychiatric evaluation assessments and rewrote diagnoses without following proper procedures. Furthermore, the space agency claimed, the experimenters falsely stated a third researcher had participated in interviews.

The report (in Japanese) provided by JAXA also alleges improper data management. Original materials were not saved and data that was collected did not leave a history. Furthermore, there were deficiencies in informed consent and Ethics Review Committee approval, it charged.

JAXA was tipped off when the data appeared inconsistent and subsequently started to probe the research project. Experts from both within and outside the space org conducted investigations between October 2021 and May 2022.

According to JAXA vice president Hiroshi Sasaki, the researchers said [video] they falsified the data because they weren't given enough time to get real results, a relatable problem with an inadvisable solution. Sasaki also said the pair were not properly qualified nor supervised for the job.

Project supervisor and veteran astronaut Satoshi Furukawa will take the fall in the form of disciplinary action. Furukawa, however, was not one of the two researchers who fabricated data, thusly he'll be allowed to continue his career at JAXA, inclusive of a 2023 tip to the International Space Station (ISS).

But the grant received to conduct the $692,000 research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is a different story. It could be that the department requests its return.

The space org has also submitted a report to the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare.

"In this research, we were unable to obtain reliable data worthy of publication and publish the research results, which not only prevented us from responding to the mandate from the public, who are taxpayers, but also betrayed the goodwill of the research subjects who cooperated with the research," said JAXA.

"JAXA sincerely apologizes for not being able to carry out its research responsibly," added the org. ®

 

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