Sunday, January 15, 2006

Asahi Shimbun points to consequences of Hwang fraud

The Asahi Shimbun identifies other consequences of the Hwang fraud. For example, in summer 2004, based upon Hwang's "successes", Japan decided to allow similar research under certain conditions. "But for" Hwang, Japan might have moved differently. Also, Hwang's fraud hampered basic research because his reported success has discouraged other researchers from pursuing the same goal. The Asahi Shimbun asserts that this scandal will set cloning research back two years.

The Asahi Shimbun does not discuss issues with the failure to disclose the patent applications of Hwang and Schatten. Hwang and Schatten had economic interests in the work, but did not tell the journals or the readers, rendering the [fraudulent] papers informercials.

****from the Shimbun:

Following his claim published in February 2004 to have been the first to clone a human embryo, Hwang announced last May that he had cloned 11 embryonic stem cells from patients using a new, more efficient technique. The announcement created fervent expectations around the world that practical use would soon arrive of regenerative stem cells in this revolutionary medicine.

This fraud has left deep scars in various quarters.

Patients with incurable diseases and their families who donated their cells and eggs for research, all trusting in the potential of this new therapy, have seen their hopes brutally crushed.

Hwang's fraud hampered basic research as his reported success has discouraged other researchers from pursuing the same goal. This scandal will set cloning research back two years.

In South Korea, the scandal has not just damaged public confidence in the scientific community. The downfall of the hero who was given the "supreme scientist" award has bitterly disappointed the entire nation.

Science, which published the two papers, is one of the world's leading scientific journals. Its editors have decided to retract the articles and promised to regain the confidence of the scientific community and ensure no fraudulent paper ever appears in it again.

If there is any solace, it is the fact that this grand wrongdoing was disclosed by a whistle-blowing young South Korean scientist and a TV report. It is not easy to uncover fraud in scientific research unless the scientific community takes the initiative to detect them.

That South Korean scientific community has demonstrated an ability to unmask misdeeds by researchers, albeit belatedly, raises hope that it will regain public trust.

Why Hwang committed fraud on such a huge scale remains a mystery. Was he under heavy pressure from the country's drive to produce Nobel laureates? We hope his background motives will be made clear.

The university panel report shows some surprising ethical lapses in Hwang's research even before he began falsifying the data. This research requires the destruction of human eggs and therefore demands rigorous ethical discipline. Many countries impose strict control on the ways stem-cell researchers obtain and handle eggs.

In his 2005 paper, Hwang said he had used only 185 eggs to create the 11 stem cells. It turns out, however, the team obtained a total of 2,061 eggs from 129 donors.

Egg donation is a painful and potentially risky process involving the inducing of ovulation and surgery.

Coercion is never permissible in egg donation. It is disturbing that Hwang took eggs from some subordinate female researchers, who were in vulnerable positions. They were also paid for their eggs. Furthermore, he lied about this.

Hwang's basic attitude toward scientific research appears to have had serious problems. Even if his research had produced real achievements, he would not have deserved real scientific acclaim.

In summer 2004, Japan decided to allow similar research under certain conditions. The decision was prompted, at least in part, by Hwang's spectacular "achievements." The government should review its stance toward stem-cell research from the beginning.


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