Thursday, December 15, 2005

I guess the Nobel Prize is out for sure.

I first saw it at Marmot's Hole, and Marmot got it from Oranckay, who had linked an OhMyNews article by Todd Thacker: Dr. Hwang Woo-suk's data on patient-specific cloned embryos was faked. Science Magazine, which had published his study in May, was already talking about the questions dogging Dr. Hwang, though they don't yet include an update.

I had wondered on this blog if he was a visionary or a charlatan, and it turns out the latter is the case. Korea as a whole must begin a period of deep, probing self-examination. As I wrote before:
But if it turns out that this was like the cold fusion debacle, that the cloning process was a sham, then Korea has a lot of soul-searching to do it. Only after that soul-searching can the opportunity be grasped to bounce back from such humiliation through an overhaul of how scientific research is conducted here.
Marmot says, "Oh my fucking God," but I am going to go on record saying I almost feel a sense of relief. Call me crazy, but this appears to be such a slam dunk that only the most blindly nationalistic people will deny that Korea's great hero of science, Dr. Hwang, had fudged his data, and shat all over Korea's technological reputation in the process.

This is a harsh, harsh lesson, but a necessary one, apparently. People wanted Dr. Hwang's results to be real for reasons of scientific advancement (that was certainly the case with me) and also to boost national stature. So strong was the second reason with some people that any attempt to reasonably question the data was met with hostility. Witness how MBC's "PD Report" was vilified. (And while it's true that they may have used unethical means to put together their report, they deserve kudos for going against the grain and trying to get to the bottom of a story so few others were willing to).

Korea as a collective entity needs to learn the importance of crossing one's t's and dotting one's i's, and double-checking and even triple-checking when necessary. 빨리 빨리 won't fly in the modern world.

This is a blow, but I also have great faith in Korea's collective ability to bounce back from a deserved setback. In 1997, European banks were calling the Korean economy "moribund" and worse, but under the Kim Daejung administration, soul-searching led to a major restructuring of how things were done, and Korea came back stronger than ever (though there are still reforms that need to be done).

Similarly, Hyundai swaggered into the American car market with plans to dominate with low-cost automobiles, only to be practically laughed out of the competition with such piss-poor quality cars that few would buy them. Hyundai learned a harsh but important lesson, went back and completely restructured their plan of attack, and is now producing vehicles praised for their quality and styling.

Scientific research will be scrutinized more carefully. People are going to realize that ethics are an essential part of research, not a luxury or a means to beat Korea up.

The question now is, were all of Dr. Hwang's cloning projects faked, or is it just the attempts to clone patient-specific cells? After all, Dr. Hwang's team has also been credited with being the first to clone human cells, sometime earlier. There's also the dog and some other animals.

How much of it is real? Is all of it fake? Is there anything that can be salvaged from his research? I hope so, but not for Korea's scientific stature. I hope so because I still feel that therapeutic cloning is still an important field that deserves attention.

But for now, my hat is off to Baduk, who has been beating this drum for quite some time.


  1. Don't give Baduk too much of a big head. He is also trumpeting Intelligent Design...

  2. Is Snuppy real?

    As you pointed out, I also wonder about that. I mean, whether Snuppy was a real cloned dog or a real (naturally-bled) dog.

  3. The only difference is that I'm not quite as optimistic about our Koreans' ability to change our stripes. It hasn't yet happened over all these centuries. We're a stubborn people.

    If you think that Korea has not gone through a number of dramatic changes over the past decades, not to mention the past centuries, is being highly selective.

    Mizar5, how often do you actually come back to Korea. What goes on around here changes so fast it can make your head spin.

    Korea is seismic: change comes slow at first, two sides grinding against each other with only microscopic real movement, but when it comes, it's with a jolt and suddenly everything has moved ten feet north.

    Bet against Korea changing in situations like this, and at least nine times out of ten you will lose your money.


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