Sunday, June 04, 2006

Flashback to Washington Post on Hwang, Jan. 15, 2006

Back on January 15, Rick Weiss of the Washington Post wrote

Several scientists and ethicists said it is becoming clear that, if anything, Hwang Woo Suk was a rather typical faker.

Despite all the recent hand-wringing, there may be precious few new lessons to be learned from the Korean debacle, several experts said. Even the journal editors who promised to beef up their screening of submitted manuscripts say privately they doubt there is a practical way to intercept the small proportion of scientists determined to cheat.

But unless the research involves real medical treatments -- not the case with embryonic stem cells -- the scientific impact of any single case is likely to be modest, experts said.

That is why many scientists do not buy the now-common reprise that Hwang's fraud has "set back" the field of stem cell research by years.

One can compare the January Post piece to a later (April 28) article in Science ("Picking up the pieces after Hwang"), discussed in IPBiz:

The April paper quotes Ian Wilmut: "necessary to spend some time unlearning some things we thought we had learned from Hwang's research."

The Washington Post article mentions some previous frauds, including those of William Summerlin and John Darsee, but incredibly does not talk about the fraud of Jan-Hendrik Schon, examples of which were published in both Science and Nature. Of Hwang's 2005 paper in Science, Weiss does not mention that only 2 of the 25 authors participated in the writing of the paper or submission to Science. Weiss does not mention that MBC-TV had broadcast the allegations of fraud in Hwang's work prior to Science referring to the problem as a mere mix-up in photographs.

Of the theme of set-back [Hwang's fraud has "set back" the field of stem cell research], it is a tricky issue to determine whether the publication of something that didn't really happen can set back a field. However, in the sense that scientists in the field (pre-fraud exposure) thought one could create stem cell lines from SCNT-generated blastocysts, the time line for realistic exploitation of embryonic stem cells has been set back. Watching various US research groups re-activiate their activities post-Hwang fraud does suggest a change in perception and expectation.

Of the theme of "typical faker," Hwang Woo-Suk was in turn tricked by a subordinate, so that this fraud was far more complicated than what Darsee or Schon did. The Hwang matter also implicated the ethics of egg donation, an issue of exploitation of third parties not typically seen in garden variety frauds. Weiss's piece is very deficient in the scope of its analysis.


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