Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Korean Lesson: 'Money Breeds Corruption'

The California stem cell agency needs to start asking more questions about the Korean scandal and how it may relate to stem cell research in the Golden State, The Sacramento Bee said today in an editorial.

The Bee said CIRM can learn from the Hwang affair but only if the agency takes "the time to publicly grapple with this scandal. So far, they have acted as if Hwang is a distant aberration whose fabrications don't affect them. Nothing could be further from the truth."

The editorial continued:
"While California's institute can do only so much to combat scientific fraud - the responsibility lies largely in the hands of peer-reviewed journals - it can set standards for obtaining eggs and other biological material, and ensure those rules are enforced. The institute's medical standards working group is now preparing such regulations. Yet at their last meeting, on Dec. 1, the committee's members went out of their way to avoid any discussion of Hwang's mounting troubles."
In a separate opinion piece, Associate Editor Stu Leavenworth wrote that it is easy to learn the wrong lessons from Korea.

It is, he said, "laughable to hear people insinuate that this debacle could have been avoided if American researchers, and not the South Koreans, were leading the way.

"The annals of U.S. science are filled with researchers who faked findings, exploited human test subjects and enriched themselves while extolling their supposed ethics. Indeed, it is interesting that Hwang's fraud was exposed not because of scrutiny from U.S. researchers, but because his colleagues in South Korea had the courage to go public with questions about their 'supreme scientist.'"
He continued,

"The only lesson is an old one: Money breeds corruption. Rightly or wrongly, embryonic stem cell research is seen as the next big rainmaker in the biomedical field. With so much money riding on the outcome, some people are going to lie, cheat and steal.

"To combat such fraud, editors of science journals - and those of us in the media - need to be much more skeptical than we were in this case."

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