The Legacy of the Hwang Case: Research Misconduct in Biosciences

Abstract

This paper focuses on the infamous case of Hwang Woo Suk, the South-Korean national hero and once celebrated pioneer of stem cell research. After briefly discussing the evolution of his publication and research scandal in Science, I will attempt to outline the main reactions that emerged within scientific and bioethical discourses on the problem of research misconduct in contemporary biosciences. What were the ethical lapses in his research? What kind of research misconduct has been identified? How this kind of misconduct affects scientific integrity? How to avoid it? Focusing on these questions, the paper interprets the Hwang’s case as a case study that might shed light on the worst aspects of highstakes global science. This case presents a group of problems that might endanger scientific integrity and public trust. Regulatory oversight, ethical requirements and institutional safeguards are often viewed by the scientific community as merely decelerating scientific progress and causing delays in the application of treatments. The Hwang’s case represents how unimpeded progress works in contemporary science. Thus, the case might shed light on the often neglected benefits of “the social control of science”.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Dr Stephen Minger.The Fall of a ScientificRock Star”. BBC online: (Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 17:53 GMT) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4599974.stm.

  2. 2.

    Following his first international debut in a scientific publication of a biotechnological breakthrough, even commemorative stamps were issued and sold, with an image of stem cells with silhouettes of a man rising from a wheelchair, walking and running. The short existence of the stamps was between the 12th of February, 2005, and 11th of January 2006.

  3. 3.

    For the more recently appeared discussion about Hwang’s success in parthenogenesis see the postscript at the end of the paper.

  4. 4.

    Prof. Gerald Schatten of America’s University of Pittsburgh is sought by South Korean prosecution which is investigating Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk’s embryonic cloning research fabrication. The Seoul Times, Wednesday, February 21, 2007 (http://theseoultimes.com/ST/?url=/ST/db/read.php?idx=2983).

  5. 5.

    For the procedure of prosecution against Hwang, see the postscript at the end of this paper.

  6. 6.

    http://bric.postech.ac.kr/.

  7. 7.

    Summary of Final Report on Professor Hwang Woo-Suk’s Research, Seoul National University Investigation Committee. http://www.useoul.edu (press release).

  8. 8.

    Ibid p. 10.

  9. 9.

    Ibid.

  10. 10.

    Ibid.

  11. 11.

    Ibid.

  12. 12.

    Ibid.

  13. 13.

    International Committee of Medical Journal Editors: Uniform requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals. Updated May 2000 (www.icmje.org).

  14. 14.

    Who’s the Author? Problems with Biomedical Authorship, and Some Possible Solutions. Report to the Council of Biology Editors (now Council of Science Editors) From the Task Force on Authorship, February 2000 (http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/publications/v23n4p111-119.pdf).

  15. 15.

    CSE’s White Paper on Promoting Integrity in Scientific Journal Publications. Approved by the CSE Board of Directors on September 13, 2006. (http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/editorial_policies/white_paper.cfm).

  16. 16.

    See http://www.icmje.org/ at p. 28.

  17. 17.

    “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgements of data.”

  18. 18.

    “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, in proposing, performing, or reporting research”.

  19. 19.

    “significant misbehaviour that improperly appropriates the intellectual property or contributions of others, that intentionally impedes the progress of research, or that risks corrupting the scientific record or compromising the integrity of scientific practices. Such behaviors are unethical and unacceptable in proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or in reviewing the proposals or research reports of others.”

  20. 20.

    Joint Consensus Conference on Misconduct in Biomedical Research. Consensus statement, 28 and 29 October 1999 (http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/esd/consensus/misconduct_99.html).

  21. 21.

    The European Science Foundation (ESF) and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity (ORI) have announced plans to hold a World Conference on Research Integrity in Lisbon, Portugal on September 16–19, 2007 (http://www.esf.org/activities/esf-conferences/details/confdetail242/conference-information.html).

  22. 22.

    In 2002, the ORI reported that 99 institutions had 83 cases of misconduct, with 71 institutions reporting a new allegation. Between 1990 and 2002 the Office of Inspector General at the NSF investigated 800 allegations of misconduct in 600 cases.

  23. 23.

    http://www.publicationethics.org.uk/

  24. 24.

    http://www.helsetilsynet.no/templates/ArticleWithLinks____8701.aspx

  25. 25.

    Editorial, “Study shows bioethics awareness lacking” Dong-a Ilbo, 25 November 2005, http://english.donga.com/srv/service.php3?biid=2005112564428&path_dir=20051125

  26. 26.

    Final Report to ESF and ORI, First World Conference on Research Integrity: Fostering Responsible Research. http://www.esf.org/

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Prof. Judit Sándor for her professional support and advice in presenting an early draft of this paper. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable and in depth comments for improving the original draft.

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Correspondence to Péter Kakuk.

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Written and revised version of the lecture “Cloning, Stem-Cell Research and the Hwang Woo Suk Case” presented in the „Perfect Copy?—Cloning and Stem-Cell Research” Workshop organized by CELAB, Budapest, CEU at 2nd of March 2007.

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Kakuk, P. The Legacy of the Hwang Case: Research Misconduct in Biosciences. Sci Eng Ethics 15, 545 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-009-9121-x

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Keywords

  • Hwang Woo Suk
  • Stem-cell research
  • Research misconduct
  • Fabrication
  • Scientific integrity