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Panel Confirms S. Korean Cloning Fraud 111

Posted by Zonk
from the sad-day-for-science dept.
mmell writes "South Korean cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk created a stir when he claimed to have successfully cloned human stem cells, claims which were almost immediately viewed with skepticism in the scientific community. Now an article on the BBC's website chronicles the doctor's final fall from grace as nine scientists empanelled at Seoul University conclude that Doctor Hwang's sensational claims were in fact an elaborate fraud (although they have also confirmed that Doctor Hwang's prior claim to have cloned a dog appears to be valid)." Confirmation of the investigation begun last week.
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Panel Confirms S. Korean Cloning Fraud

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @01:37PM (#14437413) Homepage Journal

    The worst bit of the fraud, as I heard on the BBC this morning, is it lead to considerable investment in Cell Research in S. Korea because Hwang was not at the periphery, but at the forefront of the field. Now S. Korea will be relegated to backwater status in the field of Stem Cell and Cloning Research (which will in all likelihood severly diminish their chances for a spot in the 2008 Olympics Tailored Stem Cell competition.)

    However, Don Asmussen of San Francisco Datebook notoriety has again nailed it [sfgate.com] and skewered bystanding bigwigs in Washington DC and Hollywood on his followthrough.

    But will he try out for the 2008 Olympic Political/Social Commentary squad, that's the big question

    • by cagle_.25 (715952) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @02:57PM (#14438193) Journal
      Perhaps this gives us a second chance to evaluate whether embryonic stem-cell research is really worth investing in. Consider:

      Non-embryonic stem-cell research is already miles ahead in providing cures [stemcellresearch.org]

      Embryonic lines consistently develop mutations [washingtonpost.com] that make them unusable.

      Non-embryonic lines are progressing towards embryonic flexibility [sciencedaily.com].

      All of this pales, however, in view of the green [alwayson-network.com] dollar [ca.gov] signs [washingtonpost.com] that float in front of researcher's eyes. Somehow, money seems to make morally outrageous actions seem legit. I have no problem turning off the flow of cash to research that amounts to cannibalism.

      • All of this pales, however, in view of the green dollar signs that float in front of researcher's eyes. Somehow, money seems to make morally outrageous actions seem legit. I have no problem turning off the flow of cash to research that amounts to cannibalism.
        --
        Human being (n.): A genetically human, genetically distinct, functioning organism.

        Cannibalism? It's an embryo, it's not an independently functioning organism. Disconnect the umbilical and it dies. Take it out of its environment and it dies. So

      • Shouldn't we also get rid of space exploration because other fields of research are producing more immediately useful advancements and don't cost as much? And if embryonic stem-cell research is cannibalism, then so are the practices of organ donation and blood transfusion.

        Somehow, impassioned religious rhetoric seems to make irrational beliefs appear legitimate--until those arguments come under closer scrutiny. Money certainly has a way of distorting people's sense of morality, but such is not the case her

        • ... if embryonic stem-cell research is cannibalism, then so are the practices of organ donation and blood transfusion.

          Organ donation and blood transfusion aren't cannibalism because we don't permit people to kill others in order to harvest their organs or take their blood. By contrast, embryos -- which are functioning human organisms -- are destroyed in order to "harvest" their stem cells. If researchers can find ways to get stem cells without destroying the organism, then I have no problem with the prac

          • Who is killed when embryonic stem-cell research is conducted? An embryo is not a person. Taking emergency contraception pills isn't murder. Spontaneous abortion is not involuntary manslaughter. Your argument is based on false premises. An embryo is not a function human being no matter how many times the religious right decries abortion as murder.
            • (1) An embryo is not a person.
              (2) Taking emergency contraception pills isn't murder.
              (3) Spontaneous abortion is not involuntary manslaughter.
              (4) Your argument is based on false premises.
              (5) An embryo is not a function human being no matter how many times the religious right decries abortion as murder.

              It's fairly clear that the truth of (2) and (3) rests on the truth of (1). But what argument would you advance for the truth of (1)? Statement (1) is a valid argument only if there is an established, ac

              • The medical community makes the distinction between gamtes, embryos, fetuses, and infants, for a reason. The reason I bring up the religious right is because they are the main proponents of such erroneous beliefs as embryos being humans beings, and abortion being murder. These beliefs are in direct contradiction with the beliefs of the medical community, which are based on medically meaningful distinctions rather than making equivocations that evoke strong emotions in favor of a particular political agenda.

                • The medical community makes the distinction between gamtes, embryos, fetuses, and infants, for a reason.

                  True, but that reason is not the desire to distinguish between person and non-person. The medical community also distinguishes between "neonate", "infant", "toddler", and "child", but for medical diagnosis reasons, not to grant one a greater status of personhood over the other.

                  The medical community is quite divided over the issue of when a "person" has come into being. Some see personhood as developing

                  • Diploid cells in humans can be considered organism. Many types of cells in the human body can continue to grow and exhibit properties of life even when they are removed from surrounding cells. So why aren't they called human beings?

                    Also, it's pretty clear that there's a much greater biological difference between an embryo and a child than there is between a toddler and an infant. Once again, if embryos are human beings, why is it not a concern when almost 80% of all conceptions are spontaneously aborted? I

                    • We'll just have to disagree about the understanding of the term "person."

                      In closing, three points need making:

                      Diploid cells in humans can be considered organism. Many types of cells in the human body can continue to grow and exhibit properties of life even when they are removed from surrounding cells. So why aren't they called human beings?

                      Because those cells exhibit some rather than all of the properties of living organisms. Search Wikipedia for "life form."

                      Once again, if embryos are human beings, why

                    • Which properties of life do the other types of cells in the human body not exhibit? A culture of almost any type of cell in the human body will continue to grow and exhibt all properties of life when placed in liquid nutrients.

                      You're claim that embryos are human beings is not based on philosophical arguments. They are based on arbitrary beliefs (which are most likely religiously inspired). The only thing you've supported your claim with is a dubious definition of what a human being is, paying no attention

                    • Which properties of life do the other types of cells in the human body not exhibit? A culture of almost any type of cell in the human body will continue to grow and exhibt all properties of life when placed in liquid nutrients.

                      Universal ("totipotent") differentiation [wikipedia.org] is a property exhibited only by the embryo and embryonic stem cells. Development as an organism that matures and reproduces is a property exhibited only by embryos.

                      Note carefully that a life form must exhibit these characteristics at least on

                    • Tissue cultures grow just as other simple organisms do. They also have their own system of metabolism to convert the liquid nutrients into energy. They exhibit internal motion just as other simple cellular life forms. They reproduce through mitosis. They respond to stimuli in different ways depending on the type of tissue it is. They are composed of cells. So how does this not fit the definition of a life form. It may not be a lifeform that naturally occurs outside of the human body, but a tissue culture ex

    • The worst bit of the fraud, as I heard on the BBC this morning, is it lead to considerable investment

      What does lead (Pb) have to do with this?

      It "led" to. If you lead, then someone is led. Not lead. Unless you lead them to a matter converter.

  • by MoxCamel (20484) * on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @01:40PM (#14437445)
    A panel? As if there were some doubt?

    Hwang Woo-suk: I committed fraud.
    Panel: *deliberates* No you didn't.

    Mox
    • A panel? As if there were some doubt?

      Hwang Woo-suk: I committed fraud.
      Panel: *deliberates* No you didn't.

      In other news the field of biosciences is now been determined, not merely to be warped (by political influences), but bent by the Hwang scandal.

    • Re:I love academia (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No, it's more like. "That's deeply disappointing. But A) we're not going to take your word for how far you claim the fraud goes -- we're going to evaluate everything you have ever done; *deliberation* B) fortunately, it appears not all your work is fraudulent. This work is bogus, and this is not."

      The goal is to excise the fraudulent stuff, and see what, if anything, remains. In this case, the panel's result isn't "No you didn't", it is "Yes you did, right up to this point here."

      It's like fixing a house
    • I wondering about this too. Didn't he admit it? Why'd they waste all that time and money on a "panel?"
      • Re:I love academia (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drgonzo59 (747139)
        They at least wanted to somehow seem "professional" and to put up the image that "we are serious about this", "we will openly investigate this and punish the responsible", "we are still a very honest country". In other words it is more of a show for the whole world.
        • Uh, no. Like many others have stated, Hwang was a lead researcher in his field. His career did not consist of this single study. The panel was formed to review his past work and to determine what was fraudulant, and what was not. As it turned out, not all of it was made-up. They saved a lot of legitimate research that other researchers have worked with Hwang on, which would have otherwise likely been tossed out. This is also important since many other researchers may have based their work on some of his res
      • They had to decide to what degree they want the world to believe he committed fraud. for example di they want the world to believe he also committed fraud on the cloned dog. Do they want the world to believe that his misbehavior extended solely to the misappropriation of the eggs. Don't think these things happen to inform you, but to control information.
  • He he he... (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by RedNovember (887384)
    The last time we had a story it was Woo-Suk Hwang...

    Interesting to see how everybody (including the news media) changed the name after all the bad jokes. woo suk hwang? apparently he doesn't anymore.
    • Re:Him him him... (Score:1, Informative)

      by ackthpt (218170) *
      The last time we had a story it was Woo-Suk Hwang...

      It's more a matter of which is the correct way to state his name. Anglicized is First, Last. In Korea (corea, chosun, etc.) it's the family name first, followed by sur-name Woo-suk Hwang is correct for his home country, but in the west he will be Hwang Woo-suk.

      • Then why still refer to him as Dr. Hwang? By Western rules, it should be Dr. Woo-Suk. The article is inconsistent in its naming scheme.
        • Then why still refer to him as Dr. Hwang? By Western rules, it should be Dr. Woo-Suk. The article is inconsistent in its naming scheme.

          Whomever said journalists are brilliant?

      • Actually, Hwang would be his surname. This article presents the name in the common Korean sense, as you stated, but Woo-Suk is his given name, not his familial. The hyphen gives that away, usually, at least in Korean names.
      • Errr now you're confusing matters, isn't family name the same as surname? And actually Hwang is the surname and Woo-suk is the given name (first name). So in Korea (and in China, Japan and Vietname), he is called Hwang Woo-suk. And Woo-suk Hwang is the Anglicized version.
  • ... it was going to be about story cloning on slashdot. Then I realized there can be no doubt about that.
  • Quick Dr. Hwang, clone yourself and escape the country! oh wait...
  • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zathrus (232140) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @01:59PM (#14437650) Homepage
    What I don't get is why he did this, or (if you believe his claims) why he was setup?

    Ok, clearly there could be some incentive -- the amount of money, adulation, and so forth pouring into his office after the paper was published was stratospheric. But did he (or the conspirators) actually think the fraud wouldn't be found out? Eventually they would've had to make good on their claim of indvidualized stem cell lines, and they couldn't do that. The gig would've been up in another year at most -- hardly long enough to be worthwhile.

    This entire debacle has set back stem cell research -- many labs stopped or slowed down on their own research after the announcement. Some tried to replicate the bogus research, or simply found money drying up because who wants to back the 2nd place finisher? And now that it's been shown to be a fraud, how difficult will it be to get donations now?

    The only explanation I can think of is a conspiracy by anti stem cell research groups, and I don't buy that. The only people who could've pulled off the fraud were top scientists in the field, who have been doing similar research for years. And now they're all disgraced along with Hwang.

    It just doesn't make sense to me.
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bw_bur (634734) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @02:20PM (#14437830)
      Maybe he believed that he could do it, but that things were taking too long. I think that this is when the temptation to fake results arises: when you're "certain" that the experiment can be done, and equally sure that you will be able to do it, but things aren't moving fast enough and you think that someone else might beat you to it.

      A serious problem, even a fundamental flaw can seem to be nothing more than an annoying technical hitch -- and the pressure gets to you -- so you fake it.

      • Add in that he was a hero to his country, and you probably have the right picture. It's one thing to expect a lot of yourself; when all the people around you are watching and waiting for the next big thing, the pressure must have been enormous.

        Not that I approve of faking scientific results. This has set stem cell research back in two ways. First, it'll be hard for the public and for science in general to get so excited about results seen again. Also, he did manage to clone a dog, but because of his fra
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      The reason scientists commit fraud is the're just sure the results will be confirmed by later experiments, and they don't want to get beaten to the punch.

      Those of you who code: haven't you ever been tempted to release an untested patch because "hey, it's just a spelling correction. What could go wrong?"

      • Well, sometimes they just go crazy and make up things. Then, when they get found out, they write long defenses full of conspiracy theories. I have seen this at my university, and also the same behaviour when confronted with stealing research students' work: Just denials and long written defenses full of conspiracy theories when confronted with what they must have known would be found out. It's not common, but it's not unheard of.
    • It's simple: He stopped being an objective observer of the natural world around him. He let his preconceived notions, pride, and selfishness get in the way of simple observation. It's what happens to scientists when they stop observing and start believing.

      What the Korean people have to learn, as every culture and group interested in science has to learn, is that your failures are really successes. He should've published that his method didn't work. He should've been bold with his discovery of the limitation
    • I think the question is why not. He is the only person in the world who had access to more than 1000 eggs for this one project. Women in Korea who donated their eggs were paid cash for their eggs and Dr. Hwang had plenty of money from Korean government to buy more eggs. The government spent more money on this project than any other scientific experiment in their history, so no one could have proved him wrong and he knew it. Also, when MBC(one of S. Korea's major TV stations) first uncovered Hwang's lies, th
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Dog Clones Man" would be.
  • It's sad to see human cloning turn into the new Cold Fusion. I'm not for actual human cloning for the purpose of reproducing a human but I am strongly for it for health and medical reasons. It's not an ethical object the problem is purely technical. At best the clone is a retroactive twin and not a duplicate of the person. There's simply far too many risks with the state of current technology. From everything I've read on the subject the risk of health problems and birth defects is huge. One child with birt
    • It is bad enough we attribute these baseless sentimentalities to human life. Let's not extend it to clones as well. If you harvest a defective clone you simply destroy it and recycle the protein to use to nourish a new one.
  • This is truly depressing news. Any science that makes headlines and later turns out to be fraud damages the reputation and credability of science in general.

    When the research claims a medical breakthrough, the backlash is even worse. The public ignores most science that doesn't impact their daily lives. Medicine is one of the few areas of science that is almost guarenteed to impact an average joe at some point, and as a result, people pay very close attention.

    Human cloning and stem cell research are guar
  • by drgonzo59 (747139) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @02:19PM (#14437816)
    This story brings up an interesting point. I wonder if there is such a thing as collective integrity or morality when dealing with a whole country not just individuals. Typically such words as morality, integrity, honesty are attributed to individuals, but I wonder if they also can be attributed to whole countries.

    For whatever reason it seems that in some countries the level of dishonesty and corruption is higher. There might be a good reason for it such as poverty, authoritarian government, and so on. The reason I bring this is up is because as guilty as Hwang is he didn't act alone. Some of his collaborators knew about it, but in general I think the same stuff would be very likely to go on in South Korea, because of some specific socal or cultural factors. Somebody mentioned on the news how scientists in many Asian countries achieve this level of celebrity. As Americans we would not even understand this easily - young teenagers wanting to hang up posters of Bohr in their bedrooms instead of posters of Paris Hilton!? One one side this is admirable as it bring up people who want to learn for the sake of learning, on the other side it puts enourmous pressure on the scientist. It is also difficult when the goverment is very authoritarian and will provide funding but then will keep the gun to your head until you get some results. So the two forces - the temptation for fame and fortune coupled with pressure form the government that wants to show off to other countries will create this situation where individuals will cheat and fake their results.

    I don't think that Hwang should not be held responsible -- I believe he will be punished severely for shaming the country -- but I think his case also says something about the whole South Korean culture. Not to be prejudicial but from now on anything that comes out of SK's academia will be taken with a "grain of salt."

    High levels of courrption and dishonesty is why I came to this country from the former Soviet Union -- it was possible to live there and even to become very rich but only at the expense of lying, stealing, cheating and bribing. I could and did not want to function in such a society so I came to the U.S. As much as people complain about the government and society here, I think it is still the best one that exists as far as a collective sense of honesty and accountability goes.

    • Some reaserch reward structures make fraud more attractive. Governments that provide large amounts of money for scientific research without adequate oversight would fall in this category -- the temptation dangles in front of the researcher, and the odds of getting rich outweigh the odds of getting caught.

      Governments that punish failure are also in this category; a scientist who finds himself damned either way will feel the pressure to produce.

    • Not to be prejudicial but from now on anything that comes out of SK's academia will be taken with a "grain of salt."

      We might add that the scientific community as a whole has a long history of this approach. It's called "reproducibility", and standard procedure is to apply it to all results from all labs.

      I'd suggest that we do such in this case, and dispense with the legal and political attacks. Either Dr Hwang's results are reproducible and thus credible, or they aren't reproducible and should be dismisse
      • "In some cases, you find that a particular lab's results have always been easily reproducible, so you start accepting them before they've been independently tested. But that should be the special case. The default should be that everything is considered tentative until independently verified."

        No, there should not be ANY special cases like you mention. A past history of reproducibility is not a valid indicator of the reproducability of new results. You have no way of knowing if the lab made a mistake or chan
        • In principle, I'd strongly agree, and so would most scientists. But in the real world, people often don't have that luxury. We don't always have the resources or the time. No matter what we wish, the fact that X has published a string of 20 papers over 10 years that have all been checked and found perfectly correct will have an effect on even the most skeptical. So X's latest results will be accepted at face value, at least for a while.

          That's partly why we really need skeptical, mostly younger researchers
          • "But even with this admittedly human failing, the scientific demand for reproducibiity has a much better record than any legal investigations, both in discovering incorrect results and in teaching, punishing or rehabilitating the errant researcher."

            The thing to bear in mind here is that this point cannot be validated. You see, there is simply no way of knowing how many invalid results have never been discovered precisely BECAUSE they have never been discovered. The same is true of perfect crimes and convict
            • Hmmm ... It seems that some validation is possible. The hypothesis that replication is more effective than prosecution in "rehabilitating" an errant researcher does make testable predictions. It predicts that, if you could get significant data on the biographies of people subject to both, you'd find significantly more subsequently-validated scientific output from people who have had to retract published papers than you'd find from people who have been prosecuted and/or fired for "scientific fraud".

              Actuall
    • I don't have much sympathy, but in a way I'm sorry for the guy.

      I'm an academic myself, and the pressure to publish as prolifically as possible is enormous. If you don't produce you loose your post, simple as that. Your prof's continued tenure depends on his/her department publishing XXX papers per year and beating YYY university who produced XXX+1 last year. The university's funding and prestige depends on how many papers come out of it per year.

      No one really gives a fuck these days whether the paper is
      • My university tells graduate students up front - in the first graduate seminar : "publish or perish" just like you said. I know now why my advisor told me to find some "easy" obscure problem and work on just that - then I won't have to worry about competition and tons of references - I chose a hard and pertinent topic that others are doing and at first I regretted it, but somehow I feel better about myself for being honest and trying to solve "a real" problem that would be somewhat useful.

        Speaking of profe

    • This story brings up an interesting point. I wonder if there is such a thing as collective integrity or morality when dealing with a whole country not just individuals. Typically such words as morality, integrity, honesty are attributed to individuals, but I wonder if they also can be attributed to whole countries.

      Oh boy, here we go.

      As much as people complain about the government and society here, I think it is still the best one that exists as far as a collective sense of honesty and accountability goes.

      Oh
      • You extrapolating Dr. Hwang's actions and saying this dishonesty is a trait of Korean culture is at best a logical fallacy

        How is that a logical fallacy? My conjecture was that Hwang was caught because he was at the forefront - he became the scapegoat. Then they created this "mock" board to determine if he faked the results after he _admitted_ that he faked the results. If you would have read carefully what I wrote you would have understood that I was not saying "OMG! Koreans are all bad! LOL!!!! WE RULE!!

        • Isn't extrapolationg behaviors what courts do all the time?

          Sure, but it seems you've extrapolated from one researcher's behaviour to an entire country. That is a useless argument.

        • How is that a logical fallacy?

          Go look up "Hasty Induction" on Google, and you'll be able to answer that question yourself, and avoid doing it next time. Teach a man to fish...

          Isn't extrapolationg behaviors what courts do all the time? If a person lies during investigation, then is it un-reasonable to believe that they have something to hide.

          The problem is that you've taken this one situation of a dishonest individual and tried to draw conclusions about the culture that person is from. Logically, based solel
  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @02:24PM (#14437861)
    I was listening to the radio this morning and they had a story on NPR about this fraud. They said it not only hurt the reputation of the S. Korean lab, but also when it was reported that they had 'cloned' a human embryo, funding dried up for other similar legitimate research labs (such as Massachusetts' Advanced Cell Technology) as well.

    Story is here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story Id=5147015 [npr.org]
    Legitimate research lab: http://www.advancedcell.com/ [advancedcell.com]

  • He did cloned Snuppy the dog.

    Before everyone rushed to condemn him (rightfully), he did advance cloning technology. Some of the techniques he pioneered, in particular in nucleus extraction, are now standard procedure.

    Which is sad, because one wonders why a technically gifted person such as he would stoop so low.
    • one wonders why a technically gifted person such as he would stoop so low.

      Pressure to succeed? Yesterday The World ran a story on this. He was a national hero there, because of the S Korea's ambitions to be #1 in the biotech in the world.
      • Pressure to succeed? Yesterday The World ran a story on this. He was a national hero there, because of the S Korea's ambitions to be #1 in the biotech in the world.

        Well that backfired, didn't it? Now I doubt he'll be able to get any respect anywhere in the world for his work, regardless of the circumstances. Is a lifetime of professional ruin worth that? Apparently it was for him.
    • Apparently dogs are much much harder to clone than sheep or cats - there are just lots of weird things that go on which make it difficult, so if that part wasn't fraud, then he's accomplished something useful before trashing his reputation and prospects of future work.
    • I'll believe it when I see the proof from an independent lab outside of S. Korea.
  • CNN had an interesting article about academic culture in South Korea, which provides some context for the scandal. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapcf/01/06/skorea .professors.ap/index.html [cnn.com]
  • FROM THE ARTICLE: (Note the italics...)

    "The university panel ruled that an experiment last year in which Dr Hwang's team claimed to have cloned a dog was genuine.

    A three-year-old Afghan hound called Snuppy - short for Seoul National University puppy - was genetically identical to his father according to DNA tests, the panel found."

    Three years aging in just one year? That's just incredible! Such a growth spurt should not have been overlooked by the panel! Did they not even think to count his teeth?

  • Why does a doctor who has successfully cloned a dog need to falsely claim he can clone a stem cell?

    Is it more likely he has been shut-up by someone?

    Conspiracy theory or not?
  • This has been a very bad week indeed for famed stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-Suk. Not only has the crowning achievement of his scientific career been completely dismantled, but now editors at The Smoking Gun have posted evidence that Hwang's memoir about his misspent youth as a gender-bending, drug-addicted hustler may also be fraudulent.

    Million Little Protein Strings topped the New York Times Best Sellers list for a significant chunk of 2005 after talk show host Oprah Winfrey selected the taudry tell-all
  • I've read some articles (e.g. NYTimes_1 [nytimes.com]) that imply this is event (and events like it e.g. Pons and Fleischman etc.) are philosophical tragedies for science, watering down the credibility of worldwide science in general. Psychologically and emotionally, this may indeed be the result (temporarily). But shouldn't this be viewed the other way around? That the Scientific System is, in fact, very robust, working exactly as it should, able to detect and clearly identify frauds of this sort?

    In the article I lin

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