Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hwang Woo-suk's Accusation

According to a report by Kim Tong-hyung, "Hwang Calls for Probe Into Stem Cell Switch," The Korea Times (December 16, 2005), Hwang Woo-suk made the following accusation:
I believe that one of my collaborators, who had access to both the laboratory at Seoul National University and the Mizmedi hospital, switched the stem cell lines. I would welcome a probe by prosecutors to look into this.
This is Hwang's explanation for why several stem-cell lines that he claimed to have developed using his own "efficient" technique have turned out to come from the MizMedi Hospital's samples of stem cells.

But switching the stem-cell lines would be a very odd thing for one of Hwang's collaborators to do.

Why?

Because any collaborator on Hwang's research would share in Hwang's glory, which would include the glory of having collaborated on a project potentially worthy of a Nobel Prize.

Why ruin that?

If I let my imagination run wild, then I can imagine an outlandish scenario. Suppose that some collaborator wants more glory, unshared with Hwang. Solution? Destroy Hwang's reputation and use Hwang's "efficient" technique to develop patient-specific stem cells of one's own.

Such a 'plan' would be crazy, certain of failure since as soon as the erstwhile collaborator developed patient-specific stem cells using a special, efficient technique, the scientific community would call for an investigation and the general Korean public would call for the collaborator's head.

Far more likely is a scenario in which Hwang himself uses MizMedi stem cells to develop stem-cell lines and then claims to have made patient-specific stem cells.

But isn't that plan equally mad, equally certain of failure? No, it isn't.

Suppose that Hwang was certain that he was close to a breakthrough in developing a new, efficient technique for making patient-specific stem cells. Suppose also that he was worried that some other scientific team elsewhere in the world might develop the technique first, a plausible concern given the high stakes, e.g., scientific honors, an assured career, more-than-sufficient research funding, and a possible Nobel Prize.

Given these two assumptions, he might have decided to cheat.

Hwang would need only hope that no one would discover the deception and that he would develop an efficient technique quickly enough to create authentic patient-specific stem cells, thereby making everyone very happy.

Which scenario sounds more plausible to you?

4 Comments:

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

I read about these ludicrously unsubstantiated countercharges somewhere a couple of days ago. Playing a variation on Mencken, they are the last refuge of a scoundrel. Conducting this witchhunt will now become the excuse for why Hwang fails to produce new patient tailored cells within the ten days - only eight, or is it seven, shopping days left, now -- that he said he needed. I earlier asked what odds the London bookmakers were giving on whether he does a header off Hannam Daegyo or a runner - probably to a monastery given his purported "devout" buddhism (odors of Chun Doo Won) - before the deadline. Maybe I should be making book right here. Anyone care to wager?

 
At 1:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Unless all of the evidence is misleading, and short of a miracle, Hwang will be shown up as a fraud -- or at least of having faked most of the evidence on this 2005 paper.

Even if he can show that he has a couple of stem cells, he would still have to prove that his famous-but-secret technique truly is efficient.

But for someone with a major breakthrough, he certainly hasn't acted as if he had any deep confidence. Going into seclusion at a monastery for a week or two and then entering a hospital for another week while threatening to kill the cloned cow and Snuppy and to leave science to become a farmer do not give the impression of a man with truth on his side.

 
At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happen to the rest of the co-author? No one question them..why only Dr Hwang is the sole author biting the bullet?
Why the dramatic whinging from Roh and crocodile tears from Schatten? There is simply too much politics. People who knew Korean culture know that Politics play a major role apart from Money!!

Don't talk about ethics when the are double standard in America and other parts of the world.

Majority of the people want to know the truth and to find it is simple. Replicate the experiment. What's the problem.
Good thing the patent was filed.
In case you wonder.. I stand on the side of science.

 
At 10:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I suppose that your point is that everybody involved in this scientific fraud needs to be questioned and the full truth established.

If so, I agree.

But if I've misunderstood you, please clarify.

As for the "patent," I assume that you mean a patent on Hwang's technique. I wonder if there really is a special technique. I doubt that Hwang ever cloned any stem cells. My wife doubts this, too, and she thinks that many other Koreans doubt it as well.

On this point, however, we'll just have to wait and see where the investigations lead.

 

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