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Prime Human Cloning Researcher Humiliated

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the political-setback dept.

The Media 252

Starker_Kull writes "Today, the first scientist to clone human egg cells, Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, was forced to resign from his post for 'breaches of ethics'. It appears that the ethical breaches consisted of overzealous assistants who volunteered their own eggs for use. After Dr. Hwang declined the offer, the assistants secretly donated their eggs under false names. After Dr. Hwang discovered the deception, he tried to cover it up to protect his researchers - but the news eventually leaked out."

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252 comments

i guess we can safely say he has got... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112674)

...egg on his face.

sorry, but i will be here all week.

Re:i guess we can safely say he has got... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14113140)

In Korea, only old people clone themselves?

hm, the image below shows the word "penalty"...does this ring a bell? 23?

I for one ... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112680)

I for one welcome our secretly cloned female Korean researcher overlords.

Sorry.

Maybe I'm confused ... (5, Insightful)

rkcallaghan (858110) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112681)

But what exactly was unethical about lab workers also being donors in the first place?

~Rebecca

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (5, Insightful)

dbolger (161340) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112703)

I am not a scientist, so I'm not sure, but I think the fact that they used false names brings the ethics of the researchers into some disrepute. The chap tried to cover it up to protect their reputations, and in doing so brought himself into disrepute. Its a horrible little circle :(

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (5, Insightful)

tgv (254536) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112706)

Any relation between an employer and employee is a minefield, but in this case ethics demands that the eggs were donated voluntarily. That can be easily doubted in the case of subordinates in a strict hierarchy.

And, IMHO, it should be, but that's (as I said) my opinion.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112734)

Any relation between an employer and employee is a minefield, but in this case ethics demands that the eggs were donated voluntarily. That can be easily doubted in the case of subordinates in a strict hierarchy.

Great point :)

~Rebecca
AC because I really didn't say anything for the discussion.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112707)

I guess you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

owen_b2 (660177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112713)

According to the artice, its to prevent the possibility of junior lab-workers being forced to 'donate' their eggs, under threat of job loss etc etc

But in this case Dr Hwang was unaware of this, so it does make me ask - "whats the big deal?"

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112762)

All your eggs are belong to Hwang!

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (5, Insightful)

jcaren (862362) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112795)

Whats the big deal?

How do we know he did not know about it? In such
situations you shoiuld assume the worst.

A similar example is nuclear reprocessing facility workers
taking off thier RAD badges, to ensure that they can
do overtime without exceeding thier safe legal dose.

When health and safety found out (as usual, via the
natiaonal newspapers), the employer said that it did not
notice employees in the hazmat areas without badges and
because of this they were never prosecuted.

Moral of the story: ignorance is a good excuse - if you
can get away with it.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

Ziviyr (95582) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112874)

In that case is seems reasonable that SOMEONE would speak up and say "but the boss said that if I don't do this he'll burn down my home w/ family.

This is not that similar, the head guy was apparently looking out for the others in a manner that did not involve their life/death/quality-thereof. Oh, and no nuclear accidents were likely to happen because of it.

You might as well just break out a car analogy.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (4, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112914)

But in this case Dr Hwang was unaware of this, so it does make me ask - "whats the big deal?"

He says he was unaware of it. However, Hwang also paid for the eggs- about 1,400 dollars per donor, from his own pocket- but claimed in his _Nature_ paper that the eggs were from volunteers. So he's already been caught lying about how he conducts his research, why should we believe him now?

Furthermore, at least one of the women he took eggs from was one of his graduate students. Now, as a grad student you basically depend on your advisor for everything: funding, office space, research opportunities, help with your PhD, a successful defense of your PhD, letters of recommendation for jobs and scholarships. No academic relationship is as open to abuse as the relationship between a graduate student and supervisor, because the advisor has so much power and the student, so little. Asking Jane Doe off the street for her ova is one thing- she can say "no", and what can you do about it? Asking your graduate student is another thing entirely: she knows you can do any number of things to crush her career, so she's pressured to say yes. It's a disgusting abuse of power and this creep should never work again. Sure, innocent until proven guilty and all... but the fact that he's resigning and his collaborator is rushing to distance himself is pretty telling.

Finally I find his defense pretty ludicrous. He said they went behind his back to donate eggs? That's not much of a defense, to say that you ran such a sloppy operation and did such a piss-poor job of conducting your research that you didn't even realize your own students were donating their ova. That, and it's just a little hard to swallow.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (2, Insightful)

gordo3000 (785698) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113036)

wait a second.... he gets eggs from a hospital, having never met the patients who donated eggs, and is suppose to divine who they came from? its pretty damn easy to use a false name and volunteer to do something. Most of the time, because of the need, people aren't expecting liars to come in and fool them.

anyways, where did you get the idea that people were paid for their eggs? The only mention of this in teh article(and any other I have read) was that they were paid without the knowledge of the lead researcher.

so if the women weren't asked, and were once turned down by him because of ethical concerns, I'm not sure what you're ranting about. or do you feel that he should have been at every stage of the research to know exactly what happened? if so, you probably have never done research. its way too complex especially in the medical sciences field for one person to have first hand knowledge.

of course, you seem to not believe what he said. you just make assertions not realizing that science is a lot like politics, even the whiff of somethign unethical sends scientists running for the hills.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (2, Insightful)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113186)

In public positions, such as the face (lead) of a research team, it's not just enough to be ethical. You must appear to be ethical, too. A cover-up can go either way. Receiving "donations" from those strictly under your command could be voluntary, or coerced. Appearances of being ethical are often more important than actually being ethical. Same goes for politicians, deans of universities, and teachers. Have you ever heard of a teacher spending a lot of time one-on-one with a student of the opposite sex to help them, find themselves wrongly accused of a heinous crime, then vindicated, but still unable to find a new job? Appearances matter.

I'm not saying it's fair. Just that it is what it is.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (3, Insightful)

xappax (876447) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112719)

I'm sure the reason the general public is concerned is that it seems like a "breach of ethics" or as we say in the rural US, it "ain't raight". However, I think the reason it created waves in the scientific community is that researchers are expected to remain as distant as possible from their experiments as possible, in an effort to keep their observations as objective as possible. You can't do good science if your personal emotions and ego are wrapped up too tightly with the experiment.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (5, Insightful)

Halfbaked Plan (769830) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112855)

You can't do good science if your personal emotions and ego are wrapped up too tightly with the experiment.

Whoah! That would rule out just about any scientist. Or anybody else doing any kind of work they care about.

Which leaves the work for dispassionate drones and the mediocre, I suppose.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (4, Interesting)

rxmd (205533) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113174)

Whoah! That would rule out just about any scientist. Or anybody else doing any kind of work they care about.
I guess there's still a difference between a scientist doing research that he cares about (most of us do) and a biologist working with a cell culture that is technically his or her daughter.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

Opie812 (582663) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112871)

... or as we say in the rural US, it "ain't raight".

Not entirely accurate. It should be: it "ain't raight, let's teach it in science class" :)

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

Nate B. (2907) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112886)

This is probably the most reasonable explanation I've read on this topic.

It's probably impossible for any researcher not to gain an emotional involvement with their research over time. The problem as I see it is that if the experiment is of one's own biology, then that person is in danger of doing things to allow the experiment to survive which may not necessarily be in the best interests of the research.

Now, as to the poor doc. Had he stopped this when he first learned about it, I'd bet that he'd still be relatively unknown and his research would have continued nearly uninterrupted. Now that he did the coverup/resign routine, he's famous. Any bets on how soon his book comes out?

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (4, Interesting)

elgatozorbas (783538) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112737)

But what exactly was unethical about lab workers also being donors in the first place?

The line between voluntary and reluctant donation is very vague because it can be assumed that lab workers can easily be put under pressure to donate their eggs. Afterwards it is hard to prove that they did it (in)voluntarily. To avoid this discussion their genetic material should not be used alltogether.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14113132)

The line between voluntary and reluctant donation is very vague

The line? Um, reluctant donation is a type of voluntary donation. If no threats of violence are involved, then the donation is voluntary.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

Eukariote (881204) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112836)

But what exactly was unethical about lab workers also being donors in the first place?

Yes, most confusing. What is so unethical about donating a few of many eggs for your own research? And rather sexist too, IMO. No-one would be up in arms about a male researcher blowing a wad so as to research a few sperms. And imagine the waste involved in that! All those millions of poor chanceless wasted spermlets.

And it is all in such a good and long tradition. Back around 1670-1680, the inventor of the optical microscope, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, discovered sperm cells by, you guessed it, examining his own sperm.

The difference being... (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112861)

that these researchers used their own, rather than an assitant's cells.

When this story broke, the first instance of it was that the assistant was forced. Now, we have that she donated. Which is right? Did she change the version so that she could keep her job? We will never know the truth.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (2, Insightful)

Dollar Sign TA (895332) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112909)

And rather sexist too, IMO. No-one would be up in arms about a male researcher blowing a wad so as to research a few sperms.
Hmm, yes, well, really not the same thing. It's just a tad easier to get sperm than an egg. Egg donors under go surgery, it's not pleasant, and can turn women infertile.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

gordo3000 (785698) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113062)

obviously, you've never listened to the green day song. that male researcher who invented the microscope could have GONE BLIND!!! are you willing to live with that??

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

k1773re7f (828030) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113123)

And it is all in such a good and long tradition. Back around 1670-1680, the inventor of the optical microscope, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, discovered sperm cells by, you guessed it, examining his own sperm.

Yes, but did he coerce himself to use his own sperm? Or did he do so willingly.
Or maybe it was more like, "Oh good Monica! Now spit on this here slide."

Good question, consider craig ventnor (2, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112879)

The ehtics rules are their because it's an area ripe for abuse. Junior researchers could be pressured and thus "voluntary" might not really be voluntary. As the story goes, the donations were properly refused and then given anonymously. It might seem that there was no pressure and therefore legit. Even here it's a tad dicey. First because it puts pressures for unethical behaviour on competing scientist who lack such "enthusastic" assistants. Second because the story is perhaps too pat and one could imagine this story is a rule dodge to conspire to permit "voluntary" donations. E.g. if you can pressure someone to donate an egg it's not a stretch to pressure them to donate it anonymously as well. And third there's all sort of ways an avuncular senior research might hint and cajole a naive adoring junior researcher to act in this manner without actually telling her what to do.

So the point is it's ripe for abuse and the fact that a cover-up happened is what changed this from a grey area to a black and white one. One the otherhand there have been famous examples on medical researchers using their own selves to supply stuff. For example. craig ventor the human genome researcher turned out also to be one of the 5 test subjects whose DNA was sequences first.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

gowen (141411) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112906)

But what exactly was unethical about lab workers also being donors in the first place?
It's considered unethical in order to prevent senior members of a team exerting undue pressure on more junior members and making them donate.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113041)

The particular medical code specifically relating to such practices forbids any type of donation or solicitation from associates. In this case, it was clearly outlined that such actions were inappropriate, yet they still took place. Once the Doctor learned about it, he had two choices...foregoe history and play by the same rules as everyone else, or give life to the lie and set special rules for himself.

It's all about ethics, and like brains, either you have them or you don't.

All the worse for Korea, which can't seem to stop shooting itself in the foot when it comes to walking onto the world stage. I lived and worked among them for years, and if there is one thing they do have, it is national pride.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (1)

Jotii (932365) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113075)

According to the BBC article [bbc.co.uk], "international medical standards warn against using eggs from researchers who may be vulnerable to pressure".

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14113090)

This guy was accused by his american collaborator.
The whole purpose of this stuff is to stop him getting a dominating role in cloning reseach over the US.
In south korea one (of the world wide 3) centers of the World Stem Cell Hub is created.
He was of course about the be the head of this center and by doing so would get a dominant role given his privious great results in cloning in stem cell reseach.
Sadly this means: if a reseacher is much better than is US colleagues, then they will try to stop his carreer by such questionable means.

The BBC article is incomplete (4, Informative)

toxfox (581548) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113122)

The BBC article only discusses the egg donations made by his research assistants. Here [nytimes.com] are some excerpts from a longer piece in the New York Times (reg req) which describe a different problem:

"His world reputation is now expected to suffer a major dent over his admissions that he lied to an international scientific journal over eggs obtained in what many see as an ethically murky manner. [...] Roh Sung Il, the administrator of MizMedi Hospital in Seoul, disclosed at a news conference on Monday that during 2002 and 2003, he made payments of $1,400 to each woman who donated eggs. Egg donation is an unpleasant procedure that involves a week of daily hormone shots, culminating with the extraction of eggs through a hollow needle. "For those who go through discomfort and sacrifice, it seemed natural to give some money as compensation," Dr. Roh told reporters. [...] Dr. Hwang said he had wondered why the hospital had become a regular source of eggs, while other hospitals were having difficulties. "I raised the matter, but Roh Sung Il, the administrator of MizMedi Hospital in Seoul, said that there were no problems in the procurement process and I did not raise the issue afterwards," he told reporters. After the ethical scandal flared this week, dozens of women in Dr. Hwang's Internet fan club have sent e-mail messages volunteering their eggs.

Confirming the other longstanding rumor, South Korea's Health Ministry said Thursday that an ethics investigation at Seoul National University had found that the two junior scientists had given their own eggs for research. But it said those donations had not violated ethics guidelines because they were voluntary.

As the scientists' egg donations were neither "coerced or coaxed" nor "aimed at making profit," there has been "no violation of ethics guidelines," Choi Hee Joo, a Health Ministry spokesman, told reporters before Dr. Hwang's announcement.

In May 2004, Nature raised ethical questions concerning the origin of Dr. Hwang's eggs. At the time, Dr. Hwang denied that researchers in his team had donated their own eggs to his research.

In an interview last May, he said all eggs had been harvested from volunteers without payment.

Re:Maybe I'm confused ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14113189)

Reason?
Reason:
"Every researcher has to donate 2 eggs per month. This also applies to male researchers. I don't care were _you_ get 'em from, as long as _I_ get them. Failure to comply will result in immediate lose of job."

But surely... (3, Funny)

mrRay720 (874710) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112684)

...this is a breach of eggthics, not ethics?

Surely, you're eggzagerating. (2, Funny)

crovira (10242) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113107)

I know. I know.

You hate puns and I should stop calling you Surely.

Or not, of course (2, Insightful)

tgv (254536) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112690)

That's what he says, but you know how important it can be to save your face. More important than telling the truth, I would say...

Re:Or not, of course (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112920)

In many Asian circles, saving face is more important than life itself sometimes.

Most westerners would disagree, but face and honor has been an extreme facet of Japan, China, and Korea for centuries (if not thousand of years). Although I will have to point out that most Asians don't take it to that extreme, but suicide rates over failure (ie students failing classes, CEO failing a company, government official commited of wrong doing) than western society.

Re:Or not, of course (1)

thane777 (718626) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112940)

Ah, yes. The illusion or reality is always more important than reality itself. Come on. The truth will set you free, brother.

It's Not Over... (5, Funny)

gowen (141411) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112698)

Although he has resigned, the 17 identical copies of Prof. Hwang will continue to do his research for him.

What exactly is the problem? (2)

Mecdemort (930017) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112705)

I'm failing to see what the problem is with this, aside from him trying to cover it up. If the assistants wanted to donate their eggs why can't they? Is it wrong for scientists to contribute more than normal to their research, which they probably have a large interest in. If a scientist works more than 40 hours a week on something I don't see people getting up in arms about it. Science has always been personal. Why is this such a big deal?

Re:What exactly is the problem? (5, Insightful)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112754)

It's always the coverup that gets you, not the original crime. Martha Stewart, Richard Nixon...

Re:What exactly is the problem? (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112889)

It's always the coverup that gets you, not the original crime. Martha Stewart, Richard Nixon...

To paraphrase, "That depends on "it's" and what its meaning is."

Resigned? (5, Interesting)

Darlantan (130471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112709)

I really fail to see how this is something worth resigning over. So, his assistants were a bit overzealous, and he didn't know about it until it was too late. Yes, he tried to cover it up, but did he try to fudge any of the research? Does this make his science bad in any way? Seems pretty silly to me.

Re:Resigned? (1)

bwalling (195998) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112904)

Yes, he tried to cover it up, but did he try to fudge any of the research? Does this make his science bad in any way?

It makes him dishonest, and therefore people will doubt anything he says. I'm okay with deliberate dishonesty being grounds for dismissal/resignation.

I don't get it (4, Insightful)

Tx (96709) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112712)

Last time this story came around, it wasn't clear to me that this guy did not know his researchers had donated their eggs. If he'd been a cold bastard and put all the blame on the researchers in question as soon as he found out, he'd probably have got away with it. Instead he tried to protect them, and this is what he gets for it.

Ah well, no good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.

Re:I don't get it (3, Insightful)

elgatozorbas (783538) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112827)

Last time this story came around, it wasn't clear to me that this guy did not know his researchers had donated their eggs. If he'd been a cold bastard and put all the blame on the researchers in question as soon as he found out, he'd probably have got away with it. Instead he tried to protect them, and this is what he gets for it.

You will never know what happened, neither will I. The only thing we know is that these eggs were used (let's assume that is true, because even that you cannot know). Everything else is hypothesis and should be treated as such.

Maybe he was to blame, maybe someone else. One way or another unethical stuff happened and the boss takes the blame. Note that this does not necessarily mean his career is over. Just think of German scientists being adopted by the US after WWII. If this guy is really an international authority, he will be back in business in no time.

Re:I don't get it (2, Insightful)

Ubergrendle (531719) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113026)

Just think of German scientists being adopted by the US after WWII. If this guy is really an international authority, he will be back in business in no time.

I hear what you're saying, although I think this a bit disingenuous... the US hired nuclear, rocket, and aviation scientists.... these were skilled professions who practiced their profession for their country; they cannot be tarred with a single 'Nazi eugenics' brush that's tacitly implied.

Now if the US hired Mengele do help develop national health care policy, that's a different story...

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14113126)

Alhtough I get your point, this is not what I intended. The persons I had in mind were Von Braun and the like. So no 'Nazi eugenics brush' implied, even didn't know those were welcomed by the US. I should have known better.

Re:I don't get it (3, Insightful)

whitehatlurker (867714) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112911)

Two things.
  1. It is his research lab, it is his responsibility that the research is correct and "above board". The buck stopped at his desk and he made the mistake of trying to cover up unethical practices rather than discarding the results.
  2. He should have disclosed this as soon as he found out (or as soon as he confirmed it) and recanted his work on the topic. If an inquiry showed him to be above blame, he could have continued without that research. As it is, he participated in the deception, and research continues without him.

Re:I don't get it (2, Insightful)

gordo3000 (785698) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113099)

I Think your solution goes way too far. Why should he throw out the results(assuming he got the results before he found out who's egg he used)? the results are just as relevant with regards to the eggs used. to waste research like this would be like saying we should throw out all the research done by the Nazi's because about all of it went against our codes of ethics. of course we don't do that.

he ought to have been a heartless bastard and fired the women and publicly ruined their careers. That way, he could have held himself above blame by saying he did everything he could. of course, that would make him a heartless bastard, wouldn't it?

Re:I don't get it (0)

operagost (62405) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112925)

Covering up crime is not morally acceptable, no matter how you spin it. While it is the job of leaders to take much of the responsibility for the actions of their subordinates, covering up their illegal actions is not one of them.

Vacancy (4, Funny)

D-Cypell (446534) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112716)

So what you are saying is that there is a senior scientific position vacant where one of the perks could be described as "Research assistants keen to donate their eggs to the successful applicant".

Please form an orderly line... behind me.

Re:Vacancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112856)

You haven't seen the assistants...

Oh wait, this is /.

Why ? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112720)

Nobody seems to be alleging that undue coercion was used, though the reasons given for the donations do seem rather odd in my eyes. Is the scientific community being deliberately "politically correct" (for want of a better term) ?

A line of crapola if ever you heard one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112722)

His coverup is the biggest line of malarky you've ever heard. 'Secretly donating eggs'? How many women do you know who would willingly go through such a painful procedure? The Koreans are crazy, but not that crazy. This guy is full of crapola.

Re:A line of crapola if ever you heard one... (3, Informative)

thelizman (304517) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112744)

Point in fact, it was originally alleged that he pressured the women into giving their eggs. By pressured, it was "your eggs or your job".

Re:A line of crapola if ever you heard one... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112752)

That is what I read also... Interesting. I wonder what is the the truth?

Re:A line of crapola if ever you heard one... (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112885)

I wonder what is the the truth?

It is the conformity to fact or actuality, a statement proven to be or accepted as true, or fidelity to an original or standard, but that's not important right now.

Re:A line of crapola if ever you heard one... (1)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112892)

I suspect it maybe the case of "you do as I say or I'll get you fired" by the co worker.. it SCREAMS blackmail to me.

"I erm.. wanted to clone my own eggs.. yea.. I erm.. yea! I wanted to clone myself! That's why I'm working on this"

Sounds more like "oh BTW, I slipped some of my eggs in, give me what I want or I'll go public".

They paid for eggs (and they were from the team) (3, Interesting)

putko (753330) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112723)

It looks like there were some ethical violations -- where the current ethical system means no possibility of coercion (e.g. no eggs from within the team) and no payment for eggs.

Here is something [lewrockwell.com] on the ethics of donations (from some free market fans).

One thing seems obvious: if they'd had been able to easily buy eggs, it wouldn't have been a hassle: they'd never have gotten eggs from staff, and the problem would have been solved. The lack of trading in eggs prevented these guys from doing the research and complying with the ethical restrictions.

Here's a nice piece from the sadly discredited NY Times author, Martin Finkel (he lied a story and got fired), talking about a Kidney market in pre-GWII Iraq [mit.edu].

Bad Staff (3, Insightful)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112725)

I think the good Dr has been a rather unfortunate here, by the sounds of it his researchers are entirely to blame. However he is ultimately responsible for the actions of his staff and this is why he has taken the decision to resign from his public appointments.

I wish more public figures acted with this level of integrity. We are seeing situations arise increasingly frequently where it turns out that no blame at all attaches it's self to public figures no matter what they or there staff/departments may have been engaged in and I hope the actions of this Dr can be a lesson to the next government minister who discovers his department has been acting illegally and realises that the excuse they didn't really bother to keep up to date with what their department was doing is not good enough.

Re:Bad Staff -- Bad Director Too (1)

greginnj (891863) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112773)

You'd better RTFA before you give Hwang any prizes -- this whole mess is only coming to light because a month ago, Gerald Schatten publicly announced he could no longer collaborate with Hwang's team because of possible ethical lapses. Hwang then tried to cover up the misdeeds of his staff... and now finally resigned.

Left unsaid in any coverage I've read is whether Hwang knew of any improper actions before Schatten's public announcement, but my guess is that Schatten first said something privately, then decided to go public when the response was inadequate. If there's a hero here, acting with a high level of integrity, it's Schatten, not Hwang.

Re:Bad Staff (1)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113088)

I think the good Dr has been a rather unfortunate here, by the sounds of it his researchers are entirely to blame.

According to Dr. Hwang... who has already proven himself a less-than reliable source, since he's admitted to lying about the issue of paying for ova. Who, if he is guilty of misconduct, has a great deal to gain from pleading ignorance and pinning the blame on others. Furthermore, if he's guilty and he goes down, he probably takes a lot of people with him, and it does a major blow to the prestige of South Korea's medical research program, so there would be a strong incentive for other people to back up his version of events whether it's true or not. Anyhow, who knows I suppose... but something just doesn't smell right to me. Part of it is the way this whole thing is being handled- first a graduate student comes out and says she donated eggs, then she retracts the statement, but now we find out a year later this kind of stuff was going on? This smacks of coverup- not candor. It does not inspire confidence in the Good Dr.

It'd be nice to think that scientists weren't capable of being corrupted, but the truth is they are as human and as fallible as anyone else. That's another reason I tend to doubt his version of the facts. Maybe that's cynical, but on the other hand, it's only cynical if it's wrong. Anyhow, if you'd like to take a look at the facts yourself, here's a couple of other articles.

First, _Nature_'s take on it (man I wish I could be a fly on the wall in the _Nature_ office right now) http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051121/full/438405 a.html [nature.com]. Second, the NYTimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/international/as ia/25clone.html [nytimes.com]

Not the egg donation (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112742)

The problem was not the eggs themselfs but the fact that he was alwasy making omlettes!

Revisionist? (3, Informative)

hwestiii (11787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112772)

I don't know which version is correct, but the first time I saw this story reported the relevant facts were not that assistants had surreptitiously donated eggs, but that the primary researcher himself had compelled one or more assistants to donate their eggs.

Looks like a little further digging is in order to clear this up.

Re:Revisionist! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112817)

This is what I heard, too!

Re:Revisionist? (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112895)

That is the whole problem. Assume that the researcher forced the assistant to give eggs. Obviously, that is wrong.

But the story changed to be, that the assistant donated eggs and researcher tried to cover up. Cover-up what? That an assistant lied, or that he forced the assistant? Problem is, that now there are multi stories and impossible to know which is the truth.

In science and education, veracity is everything.

Re:Revisionist? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112952)

If I may tangent slightly on the topic, your underlying perception that if there's only one story it must be the truth disturbs me greatly.

Re:Revisionist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112900)

Somehow I suspect the original story is correct. If his subordinates donated eggs against the rules there should be no reason for him to resign.

Re:Revisionist? (1)

bfree (113420) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112941)

Note this story suggests he covered it up when he discovered it not simply that he didn't know they did it, that should be the end of him. If the original version of the story is true, he pressured at least one researcher to make the donation so again he should go. So perhaps the investigating body did not even care to dispute his new story (perhaps it would be case of one persons word against another) and just said "that's fine, we'll accept your version. Goodbye anyway cause it's still not good enough".

It was slashdot submitter's spin (5, Informative)

Solandri (704621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113066)

The last story [slashdot.org] was submitted as "lab worker forced to donate eggs" when the WSJ article it linked said nothing at all about coercion. The submitter completely misstated the article.

Same thing is going on with this submission. The linked BBC story says nothing about Dr. Hwang being forced to resign. In fact, it sounds like he resigned voluntarily. The submitter added the "forced" and "humiliated" part himself.

It's almost as if some slashdot submitters don't like what this guy is doing and are making up whatever spin and hyperbole they can to discredit him. Shame on the editors for not reading the linked articles to check if the submission description is accurate.

Re:Revisionist? (1)

RJSIII (878585) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113115)

I'd seen that, too.

It seems that at the very least, we know this to be true: When the story first broke for Nature, Hwang denied having used eggs from his own research assistants. Yesterday (24 Nov, 2005) he admitted not only that some of the eggs were from at least one of his own researchers, but that he'd known about it all along, and lied about it.

This much seems clear - wherever the eggs came from, lying about ones research casts that research into serious doubt.

Not the full story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112798)

I seem to remember that the reason this got out was that the female researcher that 'donated' the eggs accused the Dr. of forcing her to do so.

These stories are mutualy contadictive, so um.. someone is lieing.

To me the Dr's version sounds like an excuse an 8yr old would give to his parents: 'It wasn't me Mum! I was just protecting them! It was they who eat all the chocolates!'.

Ofcourse the Dr. might be telling the truth and that the researcher wasn't, but honestly, which sounds more reasonable?

On a somewhat related note... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14112799)

I know a guy working at a semen collection station, at a horse stud. He has a thing for stallions... and he never lets the sperm samples to go waste. I once asked him to estimate the market value of the horse semen he drank in his life. A while of pondering brought up pretty shocked expression. About $250000. So what's the comparison to a few human eggs? (thing is, he didn't let anyone catch him... :)

unfair (4, Insightful)

penguin-collective (932038) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112850)

From the BBC story, this sounds grossly unfair to Dr. Hwang.

According to the BBC, Dr. Hwang did not attempt to violate the policy, he did not even know about the fact that the women donated, and it is clear that he wasn't trying to circumvent the policy either. It sounds to me like he did nothing wrong.

Yes, he did lie to Nature about it, but I find his justification acceptable. While there are some ethical considerations that go into publishing a journal, Nature has no business conducting ethics investigations, and this particular aspect of the experiment had no bearing on the scientific validity of the results.

To me, this story mostly reflects poorly on Nature--attempting to pry into areas that really are none of their business--and the Korean research establishment.

Hats off to Dr. Hwang for being willing to take the blame for something he didn't do. I suspect that his motivation is to keep human cloning research going, and he knows that the media and politicans would continue a feeding frenzy over this as long as he stays in his job.

Re:unfair (2, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113183)

While there are some ethical considerations that go into publishing a journal, Nature has no business conducting ethics investigations, and this particular aspect of the experiment had no bearing on the scientific validity of the results.

That human research subjects are properly consented is a crucial piece of any research on them. It's absolutely Nature's business, in this case, and they deserve credit for enforcing proper standards.

At any rate, these "Korean Stem Cell Triumph" papers all seem to have something fishy about them, either consent problems or being in an absurdly low-profile journal for what they're claiming. It's not clear to me how many independent groups are involved, but I'm predicting this is just the tip of the iceberg for scandals with them.

Non-PC Fun for English Speakers (3, Funny)

operagost (62405) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112910)

Imagine, if he took a new position in the USA, how his name would look in reverse on the immigration form:

Woo-Suk, Hwang

Adding insult to injury ...

One thing still needs to be cleared up (5, Interesting)

TVmisGuided (151197) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112929)

I'm puzzled over something. How, exactly, does a woman donate an egg without anyone else knowing about it?


Sperm donations are easy to figure out (I'll leave the visuals to the reader's deranged imagination). But women? Unless I'm sorely mistaken, the extraction of a viable egg is a surgical procedure, and no matter how good Waldos have gotten over the years, I haven't heard of one sophisticated enough yet to allow a woman to perform that procedure on herself. So the question is, who performed the procedure, and who assisted?


"Three can keep a secret if two are dead." So goes the cliche. It's been proven accurate with this minor scandal. Unfortunately for the researcher, the gory details got out before he was able to either bring them forward himself or develop a solid-enough cover. But rather than looking to the surreptitious donors, I'd be looking for whoever did the egg extractions, and asking why they outed the mess. No publication credit? Money? Personality clash? Something I haven't thought of?


We now return to our regularly-scheduled slashdotting intellectual discussion, already in progress...

Was one of his lab assistants named "Monica"? (0, Troll)

Panaqqa (927615) | more than 8 years ago | (#14112969)

"I did not have asexual relations with that woman."

She did such good work.. (4, Funny)

Exluddite (851324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113095)

"You do such an excellent job, I wish I had ten of you around here. Hey, wait a minute!...."

Cage Free, Farm Fresh... (1)

EWIPlayer (881908) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113100)

I don't care about eggthics or anything like that... i just don't want them to use any sweatshop eggs. Cage-free, Farm-fresh, baby! That's why i have my little Jerry!

Why the Fuss? (0, Flamebait)

trollable (928694) | more than 8 years ago | (#14113129)

Fabulous strategy. Every one is focused on the behavior of Professor Hwang Woo-suk. Media talk about ethics in research, etc. but completely hide the main point: Cloning of human embryos. This is unethical but they try to do it, not only Korea but in the US too. Let's avoid the debate by reporting a minor story. IMHO, the governments that allow such research are much more unethical than the professor. A scientist does research and should not care (as a scientist) about ethics (but he should as a human), he should just not break the law. OTOH, governements are fully responsible by not setting laws that limit such research. And media are responsible for not making the debate public. So don't be fooled. Forget about Mr Woo-suk and think what the world will be if cloning is allowed.

Starcraft (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14113156)

I don't think the world needs more Starcraft players anytime soon!
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