Science. Stem cells. And fraud

The world of science was stunned, and the hopes of many people dashed, when Professor Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University was recently found guilty of massive scientific fraud. Until January 2006 he was considered one of the world’s leading experts in cloning and stem cell research. Yet he was found by his own university to have fabricated all of the cell lines he claimed, in articles published in Science in 2004 and 2005, to have derived from cloned human embryos. By the time he was exposed, Hwang had been given the title of leading scientist in Korea by his government. A postage stamp had been issued in his honour, showing a paralysed man leaping out of a wheelchair to embrace his lady love. Schoolchildren read specially produced stories of the indefatigable scientist who supposedly worked 365 days a year for the sake of saving humanity from disease and disability. When I spoke on the ethical wrongness of human embryonic stem cell research at a major conference in San Francisco in 2005, I overheard scientists — professors of high repute and excited graduate students alike — speaking in awed tones of the incredible technical skill that Hwang and his team were thought to have displayed. He told N din re Medicine that his dexterity was a cultural inheritance: "This work can be done much better in Oriental hands. We can pick up very slippery corn or rice with steel chopsticks.'.
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