Monday, February 20, 2006

Could Science have done more about Hwang's 2005 paper?

In the submission of the 2005 paper to Science, Hwang Woo Suk checked a box to designate that a patent was "anticipated, applied for, or held," but inexplicably the journal Science did not make any further inquiries prior to publishing the [now-retracted] paper. When there was a later discussion about inconsistencies within photographs, Science explained that the problems were with later-submitted higher resolution photographs, when in fact there were problems with the photographs, as submitted, which could have been identified by diligent inspection. Further, several scientists have questioned whether there was enough time between January 2006 (when the new Korean rules on egg donation were implemented, and allegedly followed by Hwang) and March 2006 (when the paper was submitted) to allow for the creation and analysis of 11 patient specific stem cell lines.

Alan Boyle writes in "Stem cell debate looks beyond scandal":

Donald Kennedy, Science's editor-in-chief, was sympathetic: "This is really a twin tragedy —both for the people who were misled over there [in South Korea] and for the people who were misled here. ... I'll certainly join in any ritual apology."

Science launched two investigations of the practices that led to the publication of the fraudulent papers. Kennedy told that both probes — one by five of the journal's editors, the other by an independent panel — should be ready for review by the AAAS board in mid- to late April. (AAAS is a content provider for

Kennedy said he is often asked whether he could see anything in retrospect that Science could have done to detect the fraud before publication. "I cannot, but my colleagues may," he said.

From IPBiz on January 14, 2006:

In the conflict-of-interest statement supplied to Science for the 2005 paper, Hwang replied on behalf of all authors and checked a box to designate that a patent was "anticipated, applied for, or held," according to Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy. He did not supply requested details about the patent, Kennedy said.

"At this point, we do not know whether the patent is awarded or expected, and whether it is Dr. Hwang's or one of the other authors,'" Kennedy said in an e-mail response to questions. "Our retrospective review of our procedures that we will be conducting shortly will include an evaluation of our conflict-of-interest policies."

IPBiz note: Schatten's published application 20040268422 was publicly available on December 30, 2004, and the status of said application could have been determined at the time of the submission of the Science manuscript through public PAIR. Published application 20060037086 became available on February 16, 2006. Of Hwang, in addition to telling Science that he had submitted patent applications, Hwang had told a reporter for the New York Times that he had submitted PCT applications. Thus, apart from not following up on what it was told, Science could have independently investigated the presence of applications, both in the name of Schatten and of Hwang. As an aside, it is not clear what Hwang knew of Schatten's applications, and when he might have learned it.


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