Monday, March 06, 2006

Lawrence Goldstein of UCSD: wrong on Hwang

Lawrence Goldstein, a professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UCSD and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, made some incredible statements about the Hwang matter at the AAAS Annual Meeting in St. Louis in February 2006: "I think that while really very terrible, it nevertheless was a) short-lived, and b) pretty readily identifiable by other scientists looking at the data. The general experience is that it is hard to perpetuate a lie for very long in the scientific community because mostly we are born skeptics." Goldstein called the Hwang deception “despicable,” but suggested that the element of deceit occurs periodically in human interaction. Ultimately, he said, the system responded properly.

Of "short-lived," the 2004 paper in Science lasted over one year before retraction. The 2005 paper lasted from May 2005 until January 2006. No scientist independent of Hwang Woo Suk raised any issues about the data in the paper until the truth of the papers was challenged by insiders; had the insiders not spoken, one does not know how long the fraud would have continued.

Of "readily identifiable," Science editor Kennedy, with access to all the "data," was defending the paper in December 2005. Even an expert in the field like Wilmut did NOT pronounce the paper a fraud in December 2005 [see 310 Science 1903 (Dec. 23, 2005)].

The demise of both papers arose through statements on internet boards by co-workers of Hwang, who had insider knowledge of the fraud, knowledge that was not apparent on the face of the papers. The tv show "PD Notebook" asserted to interviewees that BOTH papers would be retracted long BEFORE anyone in the scientific community expressed doubts about the 2004 paper. In the end, "PD Notebook" was right. But "PD Notebook" was removed from television. Retribution has been taken against the insiders. Is that what Professor Goldstein means when he says the system "responded properly"? Goldstein's facts are wrong and his conclusion is wrong.

Elsewhere in the AAAS press release:

But as long as the scientific advances continue to rely on the destruction of embryos, stem cell research will be controversial, said William Hurlbut, a Stanford University professor and member of the President's Council on Bioethics. “The present conflict over the moral status of human embryos reflects deep divisions in our basic convictions and is unlikely to be resolved through deliberation and debate,” he said.

An alternative to somatic cell nuclear transfer, first proposed by Hurlbut, is called altered nuclear transfer. In that concept, scientists would create genetically altered embryos that are programmed so that they have no possibility of implanting in the uterus. Some ethicists feel that could neutralize the charge that researchers are destroying viable human life.
Altered nuclear transfer “could be in the spirit of social pluralism,” he told reporters, and creates the “possibility for sustaining social consensus.”

That claim drew firm disagreement from Zoloth, the Northwestern ethicist. There might be value, she said, in a “mass apology” by anyone involved in Hwang’s false reports — researchers, reviewers, journalists and others. But she predicted that the U.S. would have to learn to live with a complex moral disagreement, and that science would have to find a way to advance even without broad cultural consensus.

Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief of Science, was not on the panel, but he attended the session and took questions from reporters about the journal’s handling of the Hwang papers. An internal review is currently underway at Science, Kennedy said; that report will be given to an independent outside panel for evaluation and recommendations.

Kennedy said he faces a recurring question: In analyzing the peer-review reports of Hwang’s papers, has he seen anything that should’ve raised a red flag earlier? “I have to say, I have not,” he said, “but my colleagues may.”


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