Monday, February 06, 2006

Open source community puts upbeat spin on Hwang-gate [?]

Linux, the open-source software, seems to have nothing to do with South Korea's disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk, at least at a glance.

Yet, a professor points out the fall of Hwang's once-hailed saga on cloned stem cells does relate to the spirit of Linux: to improve something using the teamwork of anonymous people. [IPBiz note: Hwang put the names of 23 people on the fraudulent 2005 paper in Science without telling them. Don't think that that is the type of anonymity associated with Linux!]

"Look at the process of how Hwang's purported medical exploits on stem cells proved to be lies. Then you can taste the spirit of Linux," Prof. Min Kyung-bae at Kyung Hee Cyber University said.

"Just as glitches in Linux continue to be fixed by developers from across the world because its underlying sources are open, Korea's young scientists collaborated to discredit Hwang," he said. [IPBiz note: After Hwang-gate, there was a big step backward. Things considered do-able suddenly were actually not do-able. Expectations were affected. For example, the voters on Proposition 71 voted with the understanding that certain things had been done and others reasonably foreseeable. They were tricked. In the incremental approach of Linux, that is not the case.]

Indeed, a group of young scientists who casually visited the Web site of the state-backed Biological Research Information Center (BRIC), at, played a pivotal role in detecting Hwang's fakes. [IPBiz note: They played a role. "PD Notebook" may have played a much bigger role.]

A woman fidgets in her bag before getting off the subway without clearing poop of her pet. After this photo was revealed through the Internet last year, she became the target of nationwide criticism.
When the public was leaning toward allowing Hwang to prove the veracity of his team's stem cell research last December, they changed the tide by pinpointing how Hwang doctored data.
Their findings prompted Seoul National University (SNU), where Hwang worked, to get to the bottom of "Hwanggate," and SNU finally concluded most of Hwang's purported exploits were hoaxes.

Likewise, Linux, a free and open-source software first developed by Finnish university student Linus Torvals, is the result of numerous people's efforts. [IPBiz note: observe that Torvalds tells people NOT to read the published patents of others.]

Unlike such disclosed-source operating systems as Microsoft Windows, the source codes of Linux are available to the public and anyone can freely use, modify and redistribute it.

Programmers upgrade Linux seamlessly to improve it. Such worldwide collaboration empowers Linux, which now poses a genuine threat to the thus-far dominant Microsoft Windows.

"Both cases amply demonstrate that collective intelligence always scores a victory over monopolistic players, such as Microsoft or Hwang," Min said. [IPBiz: who said communism/socialism were dead?]

"That might not be true in the short run. But over the long haul, I firmly believe the power of conscious folks overwhelms power ruled by a handful of secrecy-obsessed inner circle members," he said.

Linux-Like Culture & Fall of Stem Cell Myth

In Feb. 2004, Hwang dramatically lionized himself by announcing he and his crew had cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them in an article in the U.S.-based journal Science.

He strengthened his reputation last May with a highly touted follow-up paper, which was also printed by Science, on tailor-made stem cells.

The 53-year-old claimed that his team had established a total of 11 stem cells of somatic cells of as many patients suffering from incurable diseases or inabilities.

The customized stem cells were expected to open the door to so-called "cell therapy." The cells, when transplanted, are supposed to retain an ability to become any type of cell in the human body.

The off-the-rack cells especially draw attention because they were believed not to trigger immune responses in transplantation since they were cloned from patients themselves.

However, the Hwang's star fell as abruptly as it rose: the SNU professor was found to have fabricated data for the papers.


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