Saturday, December 17, 2005

Phantom co-authorship issue in Korean cloning research published in Science

On December 16, 2005, Science magazine confirmed that Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, a listed co-author on the paper in Science now under question, had not played an active role in the research - a fact that was known when they accepted the paper.

'I don't like complimentary authorship, and would have asked (the question) if it had occurred to me,' Kennedy said, recalling the discussions that preceded publication of the article.

'But in this case, Schatten had a long time interest in the work of this group (in Korea), he had visited there. We assumed a level of familiarity.

'I wasn't going to argue with an agreement among authors,' he said. [This sounds like the issue had occurred to Kennedy at the time.]

Kennedy said that Schatten would have to bear the consequences that could hit the other authors, saying what's 'good for the goose is good for the gander'. [One recalls that in the incident involving Jan-Hendrik Schon, the Beasley committee found no fault associated with ANY of the co-authors, including Schon's nominal supervisor, Batlogg. Thus, Kennedy's statement is not necessarily consistent with the outcome of the investigation of Schon, which did involve papers published in Science. The earlier case involving Nobel Laureate David Baltimore is worth noting. Although Baltimore did suffer in the early part of the saga involving Iminishi-Kari and O'Toole, the final appellate decision absolved him, and he did not suffer the consequences of Iminishi-Kari and O'Toole.]

The Science editors said Hwang's article had been rushed through peer review in less than two months - half the normal four month period it takes to scientifically vet research submitted to the magazine.

The monsters and critics account states that the problem with the pictures had been identified earlier: In fact, earlier this month, Hwang had alerted Science to 'unintentional errors' in using the same four pictures redundantly under the mistaken label that they represented separate stem cell lines, Science said. A redundant use of pictures is something that a referee can pick up, whether in Hwang's case or in Schon's case. It didn't happen.

Of the timing in the retraction matter, Donald Kennedy told reporters in a teleconference Friday in Washington that Hwang Woo Suk, the researcher, had 'days or weeks, and certainly not ... months' to get his 24 co-authors to agree on the retractions, and to document the reasons he wants to retract.

Otherwise, the magazine's editorial board would have to retract the paper, advising the scientific community to ignore' the research, Kennedy said.

Questions have been swirling for weeks about the authenticity and ethics of the research, hailed when it was published in Science in May as holding promise that patients suffering degenerative diseases could one day receive therapy tailored to their own genetic makeup.

One might refer back to the way the retraction of Schon's papers was handled. Further, Nature took approximately six months to effect a retraction.

On Friday, Hwang also submitted a letter to the magazine saying that some of the results 'could not be trusted', and there were problems with the DNA fingerprinting, Kennedy said.

'It is clear that the authors are going to need to provide more details as to where the errors lie and how they arose,' he said. 'This is a disappointing episode.'

He said it was even more disappointing that some of the problems were known to the authors at the time they submitted the pace-setting research to the magazine, especially since the research held out hope for 'seriously positive medical consequences'.


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