Fraud or faux pas?

MORE skeletons seem to be tumbling out of the cloning cupboard of South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk. An investigation into his pioneering work has found further fabrications in his research.

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Published: Wed 11 Jan 2006, 10:52 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:07 PM

A university panel has concluded that Dr Hwang’s landmark claim to have cloned human embryonic stem cells was false. But the panel, which had last month rejected other research by the scientist, has accepted that he did create the world’s first cloned dog. Dr Hwang has admitted errors, but claims that his work was sabotaged. South Korea’s most celebrated scientist had claimed in a 2004 research paper published in the US journal Science that his team had produced a line of stem cells from a cloned human embryo. The achievement, hailed as a major scientific breakthrough, has now been debunked for providing fabricated data “to show that the stem cells match the DNA of the provider, although they didn’t.” The panel also revealed that a later paper claiming more advances in cloning was also faked.

The shaming of Dr Hwang has come as a profound shock for South Korea where he had almost become a national hero. His fall is being described by some analysts as one of the biggest cases of scientific fraud in recent history. Ever since the fraud came to light, the scientist has been avoiding public appearances, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Amidst the dark spell, the panel’s finding that his cloned dog is genuine, must come as some sort of a face-saver for the scientist. But what exactly compels such high-profile scientists, who are like national icons, to commit that one major faux pas and lose it all in one stroke can be a subject matter for human psychologists to study.

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