Why is so much of the scientific community willing to distort the truth about stem cell research? If there's one lesson from the scandal of Woo Suk Hwang, it is that stem cell researchers are human. Like all occupations, there are those who will use dishonest means to make money, and with stem cells, there is plenty of money to be made.
The federal government spent $25 million on stem cell research in 2004. That same year, despite a huge state budget deficit, Californians approved a proposal to set aside $3 billion for stem cell research. In addition to those funds, the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act allows scientists to patent the results of publicly funded research. Embryonic research, with more safety obstacles than adult, presents more opportunities for patents. By giving the public unrealistic expectations, embryonic researchers gain access to more public funds. And with exclusive rights over those products, researchers can develop and sell them for their own gain.
Speaking on Woo Suk Hwang's fraud, the head of an investigative committee for Seoul National University, where Hwang performed his research, concluded "such an act is nothing other than deception of the scientific community and the public at large." A good start to preventing any such scandals in America would be to end the Bayh-Dole Act's granting of exclusive patents, and to require scientists to disclose their discoveries instead. If public money is used for research, the benefit should go to the public, not just a few scientists. As California State Sen. Deborah Ortiz put it, "The public is not only waiting for cures, but is footing the bill for research ... that may not benefit them."