Friday, April 06, 2007

Lee Letter to The Scientist

Text of letter to The Scientist

March 22, 2007

Richard Gallagher
Editor
The Scientist

Dear Editor:

Your February 20 article “Fertility journal censures scientists” contained inaccuracies and omitted important facts regarding a paper by myself and my colleagues in the journal Fertility & Sterility titled The Quantitative Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA Copy Number in Premature Ovarian Failure Patients Using the Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (2005).

It is not true that Dr. Jeong Hwan Kim “performed the bulk of the research,” nor is it true the paper was submitted to F&S without Dr. Kim listed as an author. As of this writing, F&S has not censured me or any other authors. And Dr. DeCherney’s comment that all of the authors of the paper “perjured themselves” is baseless, as I will explain below.

The concept for this research originated with Dr. Kwang-Yul Cha in 1998. Dr. Cha and I designed and wrote the research proposal in 2001. Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare funded the research. My intent from the beginning was to seek publication in an SCI journal.

Most of the research was accomplished by myself and other researchers in the Human Genetics Laboratory of CHA Hospital. Dr. Kim became involved in 2002 when he asked for my guidance on his doctorate thesis and joined us as a part-time researcher.

I am told that he claims to have collected all 30 of the POF patient samples. We have documented proof he collected only two patients’ samples, and he collected no control samples. Other CHA Hospital doctors collected most specimens, and other scientists at the Human Genetics Laboratory accomplished all DNA extraction, prerequisite for real-time PCR. Dr. Kim compiled the basic statistics and wrote the thesis in Korean.

I agreed to help Dr. Kim with his doctoral thesis and permit him to participate in the research on the condition that any resulting paper would be submitted to an SCI journal. Upon receiving his degree from another institution, however, Dr. Kim submitted the thesis in Korean to the non-SCI Korean Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (KSOG), listing himself as first and corresponding author, without my knowledge or consent.

He also took all of our data without authorization and moved out of Korea leaving no forwarding address. I subsequently filed a legal complaint against Dr. Kim that is being investigated by the Korean Public Prosecutors Office.

Unable to locate Dr. Kim, KSOG recognized my name among the authors listed and contacted me. This was the first I was aware the paper had been submitted to KSOG.

Perhaps I should not have done so for my student, but I agreed to be the corresponding author when KSOG could not find Dr. Kim. (I am told that Dr. Kim says locating him would have been easy, but KSOG was unable to find him. More recently, an official Korean Public Prosecutors Office document stated that his whereabouts were “unverifiable.”)

The loss of our original data deprived me of an ability to write a second paper, yet I remained committed to submitting the research to an SCI publication. I translated the KSOG paper into English and submitted it to F&S with myself as the corresponding author.

Dr. Cha was listed as the first author on the F&S article because he originated the idea for the project and provided guidance and oversight for the collection of the patient samples. He was entitled under the relevant rules to “first author” credit.

Dr. Kim was included as an author on the original submission to F&S. My Feb. 5, 2005 letter to the editor of F&S, enclosing the manuscript, credited him with "clinicopathologica1 analysis and statistical analysis."

But Dr. Kim could not be found to sign paperwork required by F&S. His name was dropped for this reason only. When Dr Kim surfaced in 2006, I wrote two letters to F&S requesting his inclusion as an author. F&S never replied.

The paperwork F&S required the authors to sign was related to “financial” conflict of interests, not prior publication. None of the other authors, except myself, knew that the article had been published in KSOG. Hence, Dr. DeCherney’s ‘perjury’ allegation against the authors is without merit.

I express my sincere regret for the controversy and assume full responsibility as the corresponding author of the paper. No one else is to blame. No harm, sanctions or reputational damage should be directed to my co-authors.

I ask that you publish this letter in full in order to set the record straight.

Sincerely,

Sook-Hwan Lee, M.D., Ph.D
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