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Biotech Science

S. Korea Cloning Success Faked? 199

Posted by Zonk
from the i-don't-think-he'll-get-a-bonus-this-year dept.
minus_273 writes "The BBC is reporting that it appears that the human cloning in Korea might have been faked." From the article: "At least nine of 11 stem cell colonies used in a landmark research paper by Dr Hwang Woo-suk were faked, said Roh Sung-il, who collaborated on the paper. Dr Hwang has agreed to ask the US journal Science to withdraw his paper on stem cell cloning, Mr Roh said ... Last month, Dr Hwang resigned from his main post as head of the World Stem Cell Hub, after it emerged that some of the eggs used in his research were donated by his staff - in contravention of international guidelines. Now it is some of the research itself which is being called into question."
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S. Korea Cloning Success Faked?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:16PM (#14265299)
    How do you tell the FAKE clones apart from the REAL clones? Dont they all look alike???
  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:17PM (#14265309)
    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8461 [newscientist.com]

    But questions over his data only surfaced last week, when Hwang told Science that the 2005 paper contains four instances in which the same photographs were mistakenly used to represent cells cloned from different patients.

    In one case, one of two duplicated photographs is enlarged relative to the other.

    In a second, one of two duplicated pictures is distorted by being enlarged to different extents along its horizontal and vertical axes, Science has confirmed. "This is a level of error beyond sending the wrong file," says Robert Lanza, who leads a rival cloning group at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts.

    Now questions are also being asked about DNA fingerprint plots in the paper. The plots were presented to demonstrate a match between nuclear DNA from the donors and the cells cloned from them. So they should look similar, with peaks at the same points. But a South Korean blog pointed out last week that in at least five of the matched plots, the peaks are also strikingly similar in shape and size - more so than would usually be expected if they came from different cells.
  • by abes (82351) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:17PM (#14265310) Homepage
    I'm beginning to question whether Korea even really exists..

    Oh the (cloned) humanity of it all..
  • Hang on (Score:2, Insightful)

    The cloning has not been proven 'fake' yet. I think it is only some of the 'morality' of the experiment that could be called into question so far.

    Personally I see no real moral problems with stem cell research, but then I am a complete amoral bastard.
    • Re:Hang on (Score:3, Informative)

      The cloning has not been proven 'fake' yet.

      But one of the participants in the project claims that 11 colonies from the set on which the paper was based on were fake [iht.com]. Which is likely to put the credibility of whole thing in a rather negative light in the scientific community, to put it mildly.

    • I agree...it's not a complete 'fake' yet. If you read the article at Time about this, it mentions that the US collaborator who was so quick to distance himself had made a claim to be chairman of the stem cell research trust that was being set up (he was rejected) and had claimed 50% of the patent.

      Above all, the collaborators are at fault too for not reviewing the paper that was being submitted (they all had the opportunity to, but were perhaps blinded by the dazzling results). IMO, the US collaborator wh

    • Re:Hang on (Score:5, Informative)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:31PM (#14265420) Journal
      " The cloning has not been proven 'fake' yet"

      You're right. That's why TFA and TFS don't say that the the results have been proven a fake. But not proven != not true.

      " I think it is only some of the 'morality' of the experiment that could be called into question so far."

      No. RTFA. At the minimum, read TFS, since TFA is /.ed. There are pretty credible allegations of doctoring results, and the paper has been withdrawn.

    • That's completely the wrong way to look at it. The authors have not proved their results to be correct, thus the cloning has not been proven at all. Your post implies that the world must show their results to be fake - especially with groundbreaking research, it is the duty of the authors to give an accurate, unbiased (as far as they can), and complete presentation of their research.

      Research is not 'innocent until proven guilty' - it's 'erroneous unless otherwise demonstrated'.
    • Re:Hang on (Score:5, Informative)

      by DeepHurtn! (773713) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @01:00PM (#14265612)
      With reference to this particular project, the moral questions have nothing to do with the morality of stem cell research itself. It has to do with the source of the material they were working with -- the head researcher's lab assistants. This is considered immoral for the same reason that teachers are not allowed to have sex with their students, even if the student is above the age of consent: someone in a subordinate position cannot make a truly free choice.
    • It's not really the research that has the moralists panties in a bunch, but the harvisting.

    • The piece about using one of the lab assistance eggs is a 'morality' issue, and I agree not a very big one. Who cares where the egg came from?

      The much larger issue that isn't just a morality issue is that it looks like he faked much of his evidence. This part has nothing to do with the morality. It looks like a bunch of the evidence presented was faked and the author has since withdraw his paper. While the study hasn't been disproved, it seems pretty clear that there were either grievous errors or it wa
      • Who cares where the egg came from?

        I'm sorry to inform everyone that our grant may not be renewed because we don't have access to enough eggs to demonstrate progress on our research. As a result, some positions may not be funded next year.

        BTW, anyone here want to donate some eggs?
    • The cloning has not been proven 'fake' yet. I think it is only some of the 'morality' of the experiment that could be called into question so far.

      True, the BBC used an incorrect headline and Slashdot copied it. It gives an impression similar to "United States Moon Landing Successes Faked". Most people would consider that to mean that the BBC is saying that the moon landings were fake.
    • that's how science works. everybody thinks you're a kook pushing a crock. evidence with errors looks better than evidence with absolutely no errors, and where everything exactly supports the theory. on its face, a work with all the curves being exactly the same should raise all the red flags you got.

      once other researchers duplicate the claims, and prove the experiments are repeatable and the claims justifyable, then the real debate on some nutty new theory can begin.

      until then, "it's a startling new clai
  • How exactly does one fake a colony of cells? A bit of moldy cheese? Take one stem cell colony and just replicate it?

    I assume the controvercy is that they didn't have the degree of success they claimed (plus dishonesty in scientific study is generally frowned upon).
    • Re:Faked how? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Kristoph (242780)
      I think if you RTFA you will see that they essentially faked photographs/data of 9 out of the 11 colonies by using the donor cells and the 2 colonies they did actually produce.

      ]{
    • Here [newscientist.com] is a better article (with more explanations at least) than the one posted on /.

      And the sad thing this is the link posted on fark.com [fark.com] a full day before /. did. And they did it With a much better headline.

      "Slashdot.org : News for non-inquisitive Nerds"
    • The one that wants his name removed from the paper said that some of the photos of "cloned cells" were really photos of real cells. and of course they can just make up stats and results of their tests and observations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:18PM (#14265324)
    It's only on Slashdot that you see "S. Korea Cloning Success Faked" as the headline instead of, "S. Korea Cloning Success Possibly Faked".

    They're going to go and redo all the experiments. All the stem-cell researchers want this, they don't want idiotic media speculation deciding the outcome.
    • by HD Webdev (247266) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:22PM (#14266336) Homepage Journal
      It's only on Slashdot that you see "S. Korea Cloning Success Faked" as the headline instead of, "S. Korea Cloning Success Possibly Faked".

      Actually, if you RTA, you'll see that the subject line here uses the same wording as the BBC's subject line. It's extremely common for all mainstream news organizations to use imprecise headlines because those headlines often have to fit in a small area in print or on-screen for television.

      Slashdot is not mainstream and can have longer subject lines so I do feel that "possibly" should have been added to it.
    • You give the mainstram media far too much credit. Besides the sibling of this post pointing out that the Slashdot headline is nearly the same as the BBC headline (Admittedly, the BBC headline puts quotations marks around Faked, indicating that it is an allegation), I recall a MSM headline just the other day after the whole Air Marshal fiasco, which read "Bags Exploded After Air Marshal Kills Passenger."

      Admittedly, the headline was technically true--the bags were exploded after the air marshal killed the pas
    • They only thing we know they "cloned" were the photographs in evidence of their claims.

      Getting caught blatantly doctoring experiments is career-ending, whether or not the claims turn out to be true.

  • by paulxnuke (624084) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:21PM (#14265335)
    when someone asks "Woo-suk" in Korea, the answer is going to be "Dr Hwang"
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:21PM (#14265340) Homepage Journal
    "Oh give me a clone
      Of my own flesh and bone
      With the Y chromosome changed to X.

      And when I'm alone
      With my own little clone
      We'll think of nothing but sex."
  • Is this a dupe? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by tsu doh nimh (609154)
    or is it just deja vu all over again?
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:21PM (#14265345)
    This will be used as a strawman for any of the arguments against them. "OMFG, they used their own eggs, that is teh bad, everyone says so!" Whether or not this "international guideline" is reasonable, of course, is moot. Whether they faked it or not will eventually become moot. The "immoral" aspects of using your own eggs will be blown totally out of proportion to its real impact on the process, its validity, and its methods.
    • by ed__ (23481) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:48PM (#14265534) Journal
      yes, it is bad and discouraging it isn't exactly an onerous condition. the whole point is to avoid situations where pressure might be brought to bear on people who don't have a lot of power to refuse, regardless of whether there was coercion in any particular case. and you have to treat ethical lapses seriously, or else people get the idea that they don't matter if they don't do any "real" harm. the PI is responsible for making sure everyone understands the rules and plays by them.

      in medical research it's of paramount importance to dot all the i's and cross all the t's and work methodically. even then there are lapses, but they are often easier to identify. plenty of really horrifying and morally repugnant things have occured in research history to warrant such hard-assed-ness.

    • Real scientists will be able to separate the egg source issue from the study itself. Research will continue.

      If you don't draw attention to a problem you can't directly fix, then the problem will likely not be fixed. It's important that the egg source issue is publicized.

      It's kind of ironic, though -- you complain about how the egg source issue will distract everyone from the study, in response to an article not about the egg issue.
    • by Kelson (129150) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @01:12PM (#14265718) Homepage Journal
      As I understand it, it's mainly that the subordinates donated the eggs. Even if all involved agree that he discouraged them from doing so (overtly, anyway), there's still a sense of "we need eggs -- hey, you have eggs!"

      It's like rules about conflicts of interest. An individual may be perfectly able to set aside his emotional or financial stake and make city zoning decisions that affect his own property, or preside as judge over the trial of someone who used to beat him up in the elementary school playground. But when that happens, it's all too easy for someone else to claim bias, so guidelines are in place to keep people out of those situations.
    • The rationale behind the staff-donor ban is that there's a potential opportunity for abuse; research heads forcing their interns and grad students to submit to tests. Ask a grad, you can imagine what professors would have them doing if there weren't these types of restrictions. One of my physics professors in college told a story of how he was sent into the center of a Gaussian surface experiment to investigate a "spark"!

      Plus, egg donation is a painful procedure from what I understand.
    • The Amoral Part... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EXTomar (78739)
      I do agree that it isn't the "attempt to generate human cloning" isn't at issue here (there is an issue but that is another /. post for another day). The issue is simply this: To find a readily available source of material, did he asked his subordinates to provide the material? How much of this is "asked" vs "ordered" vs "threat" vs "we do this or fail" we may never find out. Considering if you are a research assistent working on your Ph.D under him and he approached you for tissue. If you say "yes" the
    • Yes, this is bad, but I wonder why no-one really seems to care that Craig Venter [wikipedia.org] used his own sperm [nyud.net] for Celera's attempt on the human genome. Oh, and FWIW IAAGS (I Am a Genome Scientist) (That link above is a coralised link to this NYT article [nytimes.com]).
    • by AP2005 (922788)
      The cornerstone of ethical research concerning human subjects research is "free and informed consent". A subordinate agreeing to participate is not "free" consent (for the reasons mentioned in the earlier posts). These guidelines are part of a worldwide norm for human subjects research (so that a rich company cannot just go to Africa and pay people to be subjects) and every researcher is expected to know them. It really is shameful that such high profile research was carried out by violating these basic saf
  • Standards (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BananaPeel (747003) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:25PM (#14265372)
    9 out of eleven results altered. Interestingly the scientific press are not interested in having the results verified they are just after blood. Of course there is a good reason for this in that it maintains standards but I would like to know if the two unaltered results are still valid and statistically of importance.
    • This story just keeps getting murkier and murkier.

      I suspect even if the two other results are valid, most researchers are going to want to start over with an "untainted" line of cells. This of course sets the research back, because even if you can duplicate the process they used, you still have to take the time to carry out the procedure -- whereas before allegations started surfacing, you could have some groups trying to repeat the process and others building on what had already been done.
    • Re:Standards (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)
      That is the problem. Who knows. The data is now pretty much useless. The results experiment will have to be done all over again with strict controls. All the time, money, and effort was wasted.
  • by dtfinch (661405) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:32PM (#14265424) Journal
    Is he not sure that the other two were faked?
  • by austinpoet (789122) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:33PM (#14265435) Homepage
    I am not involved with the research, but I read a report about the submission in Science and this issue of duplicated photos of the cell colonies a few weeks ago. The issue was that Science had asked for better high-res photos at the last minute and a mistake was made on what got sent to them.

    They (Science) had already had the submission paper with lower res photos that were (supposedly) clearly different from each other. So while the version of the paper that was printed in Science clearly had duplicate photos representing different colonies, the original version of the paper/photos that Science had was not that way.

    I think this is just more sensationalizm to further smear an already hurting scientist.
  • A blow for science (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Miraba (846588)
    While it is lamentable that a (likely) fake paper will be a setback for stem cell research, I can't help but see it as a blow for all of the sciences. There have been other instances where top science publications released falsified or outright bogus papers, but I believe that this one stands out by virtue of its controversial subject. Even if the paper was not faked, criticism will come from all sides, with questions ranging from the ethical standards/morality of scientists to the usefulness of the peer
    • While it is lamentable that a (likely) fake paper will be a setback for stem cell research, I can't help but see it as a blow for all of the sciences. There have been other instances where top science publications released falsified or outright bogus papers, but I believe that this one stands out by virtue of its controversial subject.

      This is how self-regulation in science works, regardless of the subject of research. The controversy in the lay community is irrlevant. Fake your reasearch, lose your car

      • This is how self-regulation in science works, regardless of the subject of research. The controversy in the lay community is irrlevant.

        Bullshit. The public influences the politicians, who in turn create the laws allowing or restricting research and set the budget for the groups that fund research. In addition, voters can choose whether to endorse or reject government-funded research. See Proposition 71 in California [smartvoter.org]. Public consent is essential for something like stem cell research.

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:46PM (#14265519) Journal
      "Even if the paper was not faked, criticism will come from all sides, with questions ranging from the ethical standards/morality of scientists to the usefulness of the peer review process."

      Why is this a bad thing?

      Asking questions and challenging the status quo are the very foundations of science.

      And if those ethical questions come up, why is that a problem? Or do you think ethical concerns should be swept under the rug?

      Re: the peer review process, this is exactly what peer review is intended to do. Under peer review, the study results are not holding up. This is just an example of peer review working exactly as it should.

      The problem, IMO, is that too many people take as truth that which hasn't been confirmed.
  • Wow... (Score:4, Funny)

    by FlyByPC (841016) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:35PM (#14265445) Homepage
    If it's true -- talk about having egg on your face!
  • Apparently this guy lied several times in his research writings, maybe just start over and see if he can duplicate his results?
  • by ndansmith (582590) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:41PM (#14265488)
    Here is a very interesting portion of the article:

    The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Seoul says the revelations have sparked a furious debate in the South Korean media.

    Leading companies have pulled their advertisements from the television station that first revealed the reported problems with Dr Hwang's work.

    Many commentators said it was unpatriotic to challenge someone who had given the country a lead in such a promising new area.

    That is just scary. It is sad that a whistleblower, an advocate of truth, can be branded as "unpatriotic" for exposing a fraud. Once again nationalism and patriotism have overwealmed logic and common sense.

    • That is just scary. It is sad that a whistleblower, an advocate of truth, can be branded as "unpatriotic" for exposing a fraud. Once again nationalism and patriotism have overwealmed logic and common sense.

      Advocate of truth is relative, because truth in itself is relative to what you believe the truth to be because truth is mearly interpetation of facts. Facts themselves don't change however.

      Secondly, if the work does indeed lead to a better life for most of humanity then perhaps it should be given a bit mo
      • Advocate of truth is relative, because truth in itself is relative to what you believe the truth to be because truth is mearly interpetation of facts. Facts themselves don't change however.

        Uh, you're arguing semantics (and using a definition of truth and facts that most probably wouldn't accept). So, just s/truth/fact/ if it makes you happier.

        I find it interesting that an IT-oriented newgroup has such odd notions on the concept of truth. Half of computer software is Boolean logic!

        If a statement reflects r
        • If a statement reflects reality, it is true. If not it is false.

          At the risk of being offtopic. Let me put forth a statment about reality...

          "The sky is blue? True or false?"

          Any logical person would say it is true.

          But if I look out my window it is pitch black in the night sky. Is the statement not true? If I say, "The sky is black! Not blue!" but tomorrow morning I go outside and find that I mistaken.

          The physical universe works in analog as far as I can tell rather than Boolean. We mearly process it in digita
    • by ed__ (23481) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @01:03PM (#14265639) Journal
      thank god i live in america...*cough*
    • The BBC article barely touches upon the issue about the TV show, "PD Notebook". It involved investigative journalists who used threats and their interviewees and hidden cameras in order to try to bring down Koreans' view of Hwang as a "god". Living in Korea, this stuff is all over the news.

      So while we know now that Hwang had violated research ethics, so too did the journalists violate their own ethics.

      Nationalism in Korea is pretty rampant, but it has not overwhelmed logic here quite as you put it.

      Google fo
    • Could it be that the whisleblower and advocate of truth could actually be a fraud with his own agenda?

      Hmm, he does work for a rival firm...

  • ...And he's likely lto prove himself a liar twice.

    Last month, Hwang admitted that some of the human eggs used in his experiments had come from junior researchers in his lab - an ethical lapse he had previously denied

    This man's moral actions are debatable, but the fact that he lied about it doesn't help either.

    And while I believe that rival cloning firms/research teams are out for blood, if their stuff is so real, why would the good doctor's own team give silly excuses for questions raise on the resear

  • Questions... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Did he think he'd get away with it?

    Didn't pesky concerns like peer review, and other scientists attempting to repeat his success bother him?

    Fake studies always gets exposed given time, so what benefit did he think he was getting out of this?
  • So I picked up this month's Scientific American and was reading the their "Scientific American 50" the other day and realized that they had named Hwang the "Research Leader of the Year" [sciam.com].

    If the allegations about fabricating and faking the data are true, then I'm curious what the editors at SciAm will do? Rename him to "Fraud Leader of the Year"?
    • So I picked up this month's Scientific American and was reading the their "Scientific American 50" the other day and realized that they had named Hwang the "Research Leader of the Year" [sciam.com].

      If the allegations about fabricating and faking the data are true, then I'm curious what the editors at SciAm will do? Rename him to "Fraud Leader of the Year"?

      No, "Re-Research Leader Of The Year".
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @01:15PM (#14265740)
    Many fakes are found months after when other labs try to reproduce the results in a paper. Its less usual to find them during the review of the paper. The scienitific method is to publish, reproduce and improve on others results.

    A classic case was immunopsupression of skin grafts. One guy was painting mouse fur to appear like it came from a different result. People couldnt reproduce what he said he was supposed to be doing.
  • They probabaly just copied off of someone else's paper...
  • One thing to keep in mind through all the brouhaha is that it WORKED. Peer review identified the duplicate images, peer review found the chinks in falsified work, peer review identified this man as not entirely honest, and peer review has removed this man and his work from being weighted very heavily in the court of public opinion.

    Given time, peer review and demand for experimental evidence will uncover fraud and untruth. It's the scientific way.

    The scientific process does not guarantee 100% accuracy at any
    • Your post topic of peer review working is correct, except beginning at the point when you say that %100 accuracy is never completely possible. It is simply an illogical statement to say that %100 accuracy can never be achieved, because you are infering that you are making a %100 accurate statement, which would then render your argument false. You can bring up Godel and Heisenburg and others, but they are always taken incorrectly and out of context. All systems can be described %100 on a macroscopic level
  • by King Babar (19862) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @03:57PM (#14267226) Homepage
    Indeed, as the press is cautious enough to point out, there is just possibly an innocent explanation for what now looks like systematically faked data. Historically, though, when you get prominent senior authors on a paper asking for it to be retracted, there is a major problem.

    One thing to point out is that scientific fraud at this level of the scientific game, while not unprecedented, is quire rare. And a big part of this is simply due to the fact that anything truly important is worth replicating and extending, and a result that was faked is often impossible to replicate because it is the wrong result. I like to think that scientists are more honest than average, but surely to some extent it is the fear and shame of being caught doing this that keeps them more honest than that.

    So I was trying to think of frauds that even come close to competing with the high profile that this case could assume, and it hasn't been easy. The Piltdown Hoax was very different in spirit. The faking of data in the report of element 118 might be close, but the original report got nothing like press attention that the Korean cloning breakthrough did. Can anybody else think of anything that really would compete?

  • by dr. loser (238229) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @05:10PM (#14267878)
    Wow. I've read this story before - back when it was J. Hendrik Schon [wikipedia.org]faking experiments at Bell Labs [bell-labs.com], with his collaborators eventually stuck with retracting 17 Science and Nature papers.

    The similarities are incredibly striking, including (according to the New Scientist [newscientist.com]) duplicated figures within papers and between papers claiming to be different samples.

    What motivates someone to (apparently) fake results like this, when they're almost sure to be caught?
  • Validated (Score:2, Funny)

    by theendlessnow (516149)
    I have replicated S. Korea's faked clone experiment.
  • Scientific American (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nneonneo (911150)
    This comes after Scientific American lauded Woo Suk Hwang as the "Research Leader of the Year" (Scientific American, Dec 2005, pg 48) [I'm sure this is also available online at sciam.com, but I can't find it.] This article goes into great detail about his discoveries and some of his methods, too. It would thus appear that Hwang has either 1) been the victim of a merciless Slashdotting (unlikely) or 2) managed to fool everyone, including Sciam. Oh what a bad day for science this is :(

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