Sunday, January 01, 2006

TIME: The Rise and Fall of the Cloning King [Hwang]

TIME asks the questions: How did his now invalidated stem-cell paper get into a major scientific journal? How did such serious flaws go undetected for months? And could he have knowingly taken such foolish risks? which questions could equally well have been asked of the previous fraudulent work of Jan-Hendrik Schon. Curiously, the TIME article does not provide answers to these questions, or even attempt to provide answers. The TIME article does not mention the work of Jan-Hendrik Schon, which led to publication of fraudulent work in Science and Nature, major scientific journals. The TIME article does mention cold fusion, which did NOT lead to publication in major scientific journals. The TIME article has a better grasp of the timeline than does NATURE, but both TIME and NATURE miss the big issues in this story.

Of the egg donation issue, TIME says:

But last spring, two of Hwang's researchers let slip to a journalist working for Nature that they had donated their own eggs--which raised questions, since Hwang was their boss, about whether they had been coerced.

The women retracted their story, claiming that their poor English had caused them to misspeak. But by then an aggressive investigative team from MBC, a Korean TV network, had got wind of the allegations.

TIME also identifies the interrelation of the MBC investigation and the Schatten withdrawal:

MBC was also hot on the trail of something even bigger: a tip that Hwang's 2005 Science paper might contain fraudulent data. To verify the allegations, MBC requested samples of the stem cells, which Hwang provided. Pursuing their lead, the journalists tracked down two of three researchers from Hwang's lab who had gone to the University of Pittsburgh to work with his American collaborator and co-author, Dr. Gerald Schatten. They tried to strong-arm the Koreans into confirming the charges of data manipulation, and soon after, Schatten abruptly announced that he was terminating his partnership with Hwang, citing "information ... suggesting that misrepresentations might have occurred." A day before the MBC report aired in Seoul on Nov. 22, Sung Il Roh, head of Seoul's MizMedi Women's Hospital, which processed the egg donors for Hwang's study, admitted publicly that he had paid 16 of the women participating in Hwang's research about $1,500 each for "transportation expenses." Hwang, said Roh, knew nothing about the payments.

TIME also gets to the other internet post:
At the same time, Korea's vibrant Internet culture started buzzing with allegations by two anonymous posters that photos in the 2005 paper purported to be of different stem-cell cultures were in fact identical, and that DNA fingerprints used to prove that the stem cells were derived from clones seemed suspicious. In retrospect, says Dr. Katrina Kelner, a deputy editor at Science, "these looked too clean" to be legitimate.

TIME does not mention the Dec. 5 interchange between Hwang and Science, which may have been prompted by these internet posts. TIME also does not mention Science's response (mere mixup of photos). TIME does say:

On Dec. 7 a group of young professors at S.N.U. upped the ante by demanding an investigation--a demand the university's president initially refused. But a week later Hwang, who had been hospitalized on and off for "stress and exhaustion," appeared publicly to announce that he was retracting the suspect Science paper.
MBC's request for samples had led him to do a retest, and to his surprise, he said, they were invalid. His theory: someone had switched the samples when they were at MizMedi to be photographed (his lab didn't have the right microphotography equipment) and stored. Later he accused Sun Jong Kim, one of the scientists cornered in Pittsburgh by MBC, of making the switch.

TIME also says:
In turn, Kim has accused Hwang of asking him to forge the suspect photographs. Kim also says Hwang paid him a total of $30,000 (that Kim has returned to the university), which Hwang says was simply to cover Kim's living expenses in Pittsburgh. Korean press reports suggest that total payments to Kim and a colleague, Park Jong Hyuk, may amount to more than $50,000. These allegations are being investigated by Korean prosecutors. [LBE note: not clear that Hwang was the origin of the $30K, as opposed to two other authors of the May 05 paper.]


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