Scientific Community Seriously Damaged by Phony Stem Cell Claims

Read  
Print This Post

Revelations that South Korean doctor Woo Suk Hwang, once thought to be the groundbreaking creator of the world’s first cloned human embryos, fabricated all of his research has forced many mainstream media outlets to concede that human cloning and embryo destructive research were dealt a serious blow by the scandal. Despite efforts by some proponents of cloning to spin the story into a case for federally-funded research, Hwang has been largely portrayed as a disgraced scientist who has thrown the future of human cloning into jeopardy.

January 4, 2006 
Volume 3, Number 22

Revelations that South Korean doctor Woo Suk Hwang, once thought to be the groundbreaking creator of the world’s first cloned human embryos, fabricated all of his research has forced many mainstream media outlets to concede that human cloning and embryo destructive research were dealt a serious blow by the scandal. Despite efforts by some proponents of cloning to spin the story into a case for federally-funded research, Hwang has been largely portrayed as a disgraced scientist who has thrown the future of human cloning into jeopardy.

The Washington Post reported that the news that "the most exciting biomedical claims of the past few years were the product of scientific fraud settled like a cloud over the American scientific community" and described cloning advocates as "depressed and discouraged." One scientist from Johns Hopkins University told the New York Times that the scandal "will produce cynicism about the stem cell field and science in general."

The New York Times examined the way the Hwang scandal damages the credibility of the prestigious journal, Science, which published his findings. "A question both journals [Science and Nature] have considered is that of whether their editors and reviewers should have caught the errors in Dr. Hwang’s papers before publication. But as in past cases of fraud, the journals’ editors and other scientists assert that their system depends basically on trust and that reviewers can check only whether a report’s conclusions follow from the data presented." The scientific establishment often belittles outside critics by claiming that their system of peer review insures objectivity. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reported some scientists as saying that the desire to beat competing journals with groundbreaking research has resulted in those publications becoming more gullible to the likes of Hwang.

Two of the most prominent advocates of cloning and embryo destructive research tried to argue that the Hwang scandal means that there should be more government funding for such research, not less. Arthur Caplan and Glenn McGee, bioethicists who teach at the University of Pennsylvania and the Albany Medical Center, respectively, have written in the Albany Times-Union that, because the US federal government does not fund embryo-destructive stem cell research, "ethics can get forgotten as other nations and private companies race to fill the void left by . . . President [Bush’s] reluctance to fund [embryonic] stem cell research." Their theory is that Korean scientists like Hwang work by less meaningful ethical guidelines than American scientists who receive federal funding. That would mean that only by federally funding such embryo-destructive research would United States authorities be able to prevent dishonesty from happening in the future.

Richard Doerflinger, the Deputy Director of Pro-Life Activities at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Culture & Cosmos that, contrary to Caplan and McGee’s claims, "there is no special evidence that American researchers are exempt" from the corrupt motives that prompted Hwang to be dishonest. Doerflinger stated that "obviously, the way to stop abuses" related to "human cloning research is to make all human cloning illegal."

Editor