Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dr. Hwang's ethical lapses?

Rick Weiss of the Washington Post writes an article about University of Pittsburgh researcher Dr. Gerald P. Schatten announcing that he will no longer cooperate with Seoul National University researcher Dr. Hwang Woosuk, the famed scientists-turned-national-hero whose team became the first to grow human embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos.

This is because, acording to the Washington Post, "he is convinced that the lead Korean researcher had engaged in ethical breaches and lied to him about them."

Drs. Hwang and Schatten in happier, less controversial times.

The rumors are not new. Some have questioned whether one of Dr. Hwang's assistants donated some of her own eggs (which could suggest coercion), and then there are accusations that she was illegally paid for the donation.

These situations, were they to occur in the United States, would be a violation of National Academy of Sciences guidelines for stem cell research, according to Harvard University's Dr. George Daley, quoted in the WaPo article. Dr. Daley, who is himself looking to collaborate with Hwang, offers this warning:

There is a right way and a wrong way, and we must be sure to perform this vitally important medical research the right way.
According to the Washington Post, Dr. Schatten said that Dr. Hwang had repeatedly denied the rumor and that he had believed Dr. Hwang until yesterday:
I now have information that leads me to believe he had misled me. My trust has been shaken. I am sick at heart. I am not going to be able to collaborate with Woosuk.
The interesting (and occasionally delusional) blogger Baduk, who alerted me to this article, says that "they exposed Dr.Hwang as a liar." I would reserve judgement until we see what Dr. Schatten has to say. I want to emphasize that these are NOT new accusations, although Dr. Schatten's "information" may be new. [I should add that Dr. Schatten "emphasizes that the science behind the 2004 paper documenting the derivation of stem cells from cloned human embryos remains, to his knowledge, reliable."]

But whether Dr. Schatten is right or not, I think it is important that Dr. Daley's warning be heeded. Dr. Hwang may or may not have violated any ethical rules to get where he arrived last year, but with the spotlight on him now, it is of the utmost importance that he follow all the ethical guidelines in front of him. Dr. Hwang's plans, for not-for-profit collaboration and churning out up to a hundred specialized stem cell colonies each year for distribution to disease research, are at stake. Ethical missteps can send you nosediving into the precipice (especially when the opponents of such research are always there to give you a push).

This is true for all research conducted in Korea. As Time Asia points out (link forthcoming), Korea has most definitely arrived, and that means greater scrutiny. The balli-balli (빨리빨리) rush to get ahead must be tempered now with an adherence to the rules of the road if Korea is to maintain that momentum.


  1. Baduk, while I do think there are ethical concerns (which I addressed in my post), you probably shouldn't rely too much on Schatten to support your idea that the cloning process is a hoax. After all Schatten himself is still a believer in the process, despite what he knows about this situation (which, for now, is more than you or I).

  2. This "ethical" guideline that dr. Hwang had supposedly breached, is it an international law? If not, then why should a Korean scientist follow a U.S. "ethical" guideline that even the U.S scientists may not adhered to at all times? When the u.s government is plainly violating international laws which they're part of, the usual suspects at marmots have no problem yet when a korean scientist is accused of not following a U.S ethical guideline, people jump on him and call him a liar. Sometime ago, I remember kushibo mentioning how he wished more koreans and korean government officials would or were able to read marmot's blog..I didn't give much thought to that comment back then, but now I wholeheartly agree that koreans or any other asian folks should check out how unreasonable these so-called "fair-minded" americans, europeans, australians,etc really sound like when they're able to post in relative anonymity. No matter what koreans or any asians do, there'll always be critics who are ready to pounce on any little things and marmot's and the people who pollute that blog with their consistent racism against koreans are the prime example of these actions. So if any koreans are out there reading this blog, tell your fellow koreans, neighbors, government officials to read marmot's and check out its readers blogs. See and feel all the racist comments against koreans/asians in general. So koreans and other asians, soak it all in and try to do things that's best for your countries not because pressures from the U.S government or want to be accepted by americans/europeans. Because frankly, majority of americans/euros and their governments really don't care much for your countries and your people.

  3. Gerald P. Schatten won't be working with Dr. Hwang now? Oh my... who will copy edit Hwang's papers now?

    I have a feeling something else is going on here. I'd been hearing that Hwang was giving Schatten too much credit for his results as it were. He might be better off without him -- I wasn't joking about the copyediting, because I got the impression that was all Schatten was really doing.

    Careful there, Marmot. People will start accuse you of being a kyopo nationalist.

    minty clorets: Not that I wish to defend a number of my commentors, but your comments can go both ways -- it probably wouldn't help bilateral ties much if US policy makers, journalists and the public at large could read what the "Koreans" really sound like when they are talking in the relative anonymity of cyberspace.

    What people need to realize is that a lot of Internet forums are echo chambers of people incapble of looking critically and objectively at more than one side of an issue. A lot of "Korean" forums represent the Korean norm like a Tarantino film represents crime in America.

    I would want the U.S. policymakers, journalists, and the public at large to sit in on a Yonsei GSIS lecture on KorAm relations or something. Something of substance by people who actually have a clue and who can more dispassionately discuss legitimate gripes.

    I think that a lot of Koreans in the media or government (or the public at large) would be better off being more familiar with the Japanese or American side of a lot of issues.

    Even if that wouldn't make them ultimately agree with, say, Koizumi visits to Yasukuni, they would better understand why so many in Japan don't see it with the same degree of alarm that Koreans and Chinese do.

  4. Thanks for the comment, saintx.

    Feel free to drop by anytime and leave a comment.

    Yeah, we don't know who or what to believe yet. It's possible that Dr. Hwang was doing things that would be considered unethical in the States, but he's not in the States, is he?

    On the other hand, if he violated Korean ethics laws or regulations, then that should be taken up. But if these are for things that were done BEFORE the laws/regulations/guidelines were changed, that should be considered, too.

    Even if he were squeaky-clean (which I'm guessing he's not), there would still be some people gunning for him. There are a lot of people who are COMPLETELY OPPOSED to cloning research (not just in America, but some of them in Korea, too), and instead of going after the ethical arguments, they are trying to nitpick to death the people involved.


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