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What Made Hwang’s Fraud Possible?

Posted December. 27, 2005 03:02,   


The New York Times listed the elements that made it possible for a Seoul National University team led by Professor Hwang Woo-suk to fabricate research for an article published in Science magazine, an American scientific journal, in an article published yesterday.

Those elements include attracting generous support from the Korean government, compartmentalizing his laboratory, and procuring a steady supply of eggs.

The New York Times reported that Hwang rose to fame in such a short period of time thanks to his “skill” in making the South Korean system work for him. The Korean government had invested about $65 million (about 65 billion won) in his research and appointed him as the "First Outstanding Korean Scientist."

According to the article, an indication of Hwang`s good government connections was the inclusion of the science advisor to the president of South Korea, botanist Park Ky-young, as a co-author of Hwang’s 2004 Science magazine article. The New York Times says Park may not have contributed much scientifically to the task of cloning of human cells.

In addition, the New York Times pointed out that Hwang invited well-known American researchers including Gerald Schatten, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, to co-author his articles to possibly make his findings more acceptable to the world’s two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature.

The New York Times also reported that because Hwang divided scientists in his laboratory into task forces that specialized in each step of the cloning process, not all of his researchers knew what was going on, and few had seen the colonies of embryonic stem cells Dr. Hwang said he had derived from patients.

Science and Nature, which competed to publish Hwang’s scientific breakthroughs, are also in trouble. Philip Campbell, the editor of Nature, said, “We will review whether our standards should change.”

John Gearhart, a stem cell expert at Johns Hopkins University, pointed out, “Clearly the scientific credibility of Korean scientists has been compromised.”

Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh’s own investigation panel has finished its preliminary investigation. According to local media outlets, the main investigation is now under way, and its official results are expected in about five weeks. Jane Duffield, a spokesperson for the University of Pittsburgh, said, “The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of January.”

Jin Lee leej@donga.com