Professionalism/Hwang Woo-suk and Stem Cells
Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean researcher, became well-renowned in the field of cloning when his team published a paper in 2004 stating that the first human embryo had been cloned and stem cells were extracted. This article was published in the reputable journal Science and the research community was excited about the potential treatment applications of stem cells. In 2005, Hwang Woo-suk's team published another article in Science announcing the creation of 11 human embryonic cells using somatic cells from patients with different backgrounds, establishing that his technology was versatile for future treatments.
After Hwang Woo Suk’s 2004 and 2005 advances, he was not only recognized as a leader in the international scientific community but also honored by South Korea as a national hero capable of starting a new economy of modern medicine. These published studies also spurred millions of dollars in South Korean government funding and volunteers willing to be test subjects for upcoming studies.
The prestige of Hwang’s findings, however, did not last long as speculation arose surrounding his data in late 2005. In early November 2005, Gerald Schatten, a collaborator from the University of Pittsburgh, cut ties with Hwang because he believed there was a misrepresentation of information. Shortly thereafter, Sun Il Roh, another paper co-author, announced that 20 of the eggs used in the research were paid for. This prompted a full investigation that found 9 fabricated cell lines, eggs from junior members of Hwang’s team, falsely labeled images, and retractions of published work. Scientists around the world questioned how such a monumental oversight in the research community occurred and went undetected for month.
In May 2006, Hwang was indicted on fraud and embezzlement. The case found that junior scientists falsified data to satisfy Hwang, and that Hwang furthered this deception by overlooking any discrepancies and providing more falsifications to the work. He embezzled approximately $700,000 of government money, some of which was donated to political allies. However, the investigation did not make any conclusions about how much the government was involved in the scandal. On October 26, 2009 Hwang was sentenced to two years of prison for embezzlement and bioethical violations, but cleared of fraud.
Outside of his well-known collaborators, high-level government and scientific officials had to resign because of their connections with Hwang, including the head of the South Korean National Bioethics Committee and the South Korean President’s senior science advisor . This multileveled fraud brought to light the need for regulatory and scientific oversight in the scientific community.
Hwang Woo-Suk participated in many acts that presented him in an unprofessional manner. The falsification of data and publication of inaccurate results to scientific journals along with bioethical violations through his procurement of eggs were related directly to his research, while his denial of the fraud reflects his lack of personal morals and accountability.
Procurement of Human Eggs
Hwang claimed that women donated eggs for his research voluntarily, but donators were actually paid $1400 each . Members of his research lab were involved in donations and contest this to the business of paying for donations. Many of the donors also received inadequate information about the risks involved, and as a result, 16 women were hospitalized for adverse affects of the procedure. Hwang denied having any knowledge of these circumstances involved with the procurement of eggs.
All of the funds and support Hwang received for his research gave Korea and the world validation that his team could be trusted and that they were performing legitimate research. By publishing his fabricated results, he gave a false sense of hope for future treatment methods for disease. The citizens had so much faith in Hwang’s research that South Korea produced a stamp advertising the cures of stem cell research prior to the publication of the results . When the results were discovered to be fabricated, there was a public outcry at the research team's deception.
Denial & Blame
Hwang’s consistent denial throughout the investigation led to pointed fingers and the prevention of truth from coming out. Hwang turned against his research team accusing them of deception, conspiracy and sabotage to his practice and even claimed that there may have been theft of materials by his "immoral" peers. Even if the researchers had acted in an unjust manner, it was Hwang’s professional responsibility to watch over his practice more closely to ensure the reputation and validity of his research.
Impact on Reputation
Support & Recognition
Prior to the investigation of Hwang’s research, Hwang and his colleagues were recognized for their previous achievements and findings. Time Magazine named him as one of the most influential people of 2004 , and proceeded to award him with one of the best inventions of 2005 for cloning Snuppy, the dog . With this international support for his achievements, Hwang had great pressure to produce results in his stem cell research. Stakes were high for his career and reputation, his relationship with financial and political supporters, and his country’s perception of biotech research.
Early in the investigation, South Korean public and media, along with scientific personalities, supported Hwang and opposed the critical stance against him. The South Korean biotech industry is developing competitively, and many perceived this as a threat to other nations. Some initially believe that this issue was a US conspiracy against their national hero of Science. Despite the support he received, he was still convicted on multiple counts.
He tarnished the reputations of himself and the science industry, he diminished the public’s trust towards stem cell research, and he misused and wasted funding for his field. His actions not only impact his future goals, but present more policy debates on the validity of future research practices and create skepticism for funding of similar projects.
Since this dilemma with his human stem cell research, Hwang has been successful in cloning other animals, including coyotes  and other rare and endangered species. His team of researchers has also announced in March of 2012 that they have paired up with Russian scientists in an attempt to clone a mammoth. Even after multiple cloning successes and many attempts to redeem his reputation, Hwang has faced repeated doubt. More often than not, articles that outline his recent successes are tagged with adjectives such as “claimed” and “disgraced”, inferring that his work may not be fully trusted.
When an individual or organization is involved in a scandal, it is common for the public's trust in them to evaporate. Outlined below are three similar cases that have had very negative consequences because of a decline of public trust.
On May 27th, 2011, Representative Anthony Weiner posted a lewd photo on his Twitter account. He attempted to privately send a picture of himself in his underwear to a 21-year-old woman. A conservative blogger captured the image and reported it. On may 30th, the congressman lied and said that his Twitter and Facebook accounts were hacked and that he had not posted the picture. He tried to diffuse the situation by calling it a prank. Over the next several days, he dodged questions about the photo and would not say if the photo was of him. Several other women came forward and admitted to having inappropriate online relationships with the Representative. On June 6th, he admitted that the picture was of him and that he had lied. On June 11, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for him to step down . On June 20th, Weiner formally submitted his letter or resignation.
Rupert Murdoch and News of the World
Rupert Murdoch is the chairman and CEO of News Corporation. One of News Corporation’s newspapers, the News of the World had hacked into the phones of several individuals in order to get news stories . During the course of the investigation, Murdock admitted that there had been a cover up within the company to prevent the scope of the hacking from becoming apparent. News International admitted guilt and offered a settlement to eight defendants. Because of this hacking scandal, the News of the World shut down after 168 years in print.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), a French politician, was arrested on May 14, 2012 for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York City. At the time, DSK was the head of the International Monetary Fund and a frontrunner in the upcoming French presidential election. He led by double digits in every poll, even though he hadn’t officially declared himself. His political career came crashing down after he was arrested. During the investigation, he was replaced as head of the IMF. Shortly after, all charges were dropped against him because of questionable credibility of the hotel maid. Even though he was found to be innocent, his political career has been shattered. He is no longer a front runner in the French presidential election. The mere association with a sexual assault case has caused the public to lose trust in him.
Anthony Weiner lost his job because his constituents and other members of government lost trust in him. Because of unethical phone hacking, the News of the World had to close and all of its employees lost their jobs. Dominique Strauss-Kahn's political career was diminished because he was merely associated with a sexual assault scandal. In professional life, one must think very clearly about his or her actions. All it takes is one mistake to ruin a career, a company, or a life. Unethical behavior is not tolerated by the public. Once they lose trust in you, it is almost impossible to get it back. It is much easier to never compromise your morals than to act unethically.
This raises some very interesting moral questions about Hwang Woo-suk. While he is a very talented experimenter, many people believe he should not be allowed to continue to work with stem cells or genetics. Many people have lost trust in him and no longer believe his results. We encourage future authors to expand upon whether he should be allowed to continue working in stem cell research.
- Hwang Woo Suk, June Ryu Young, Hyuk Park Jong, Soon Park Eul, Gene Lee E, Min Koo J, Yong Jeon Hyun, Chun Lee Byeong, Keun Kang Sung, Jong Kim Sun, Curie Ahn, Hye Hwang Jung, Young Park Ky, Jose B Cibelli, Yong Moon Shin. Evidence of a pluripotent embryonic stem cell line derived from a cloned blastocyst. Science. 2004;303(5664):1669–1674. doi: 10.1126/science.1094515. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/303/5664/1669.
- Hwang WS, Roh SI, Lee BC, Kang SK, Kwon DK, Kim S, Kim Sun Jong, Park Sun Woo, Kwon Hee Sun, Lee Chang Kyu, Lee Jung Bok, Kim Jin Mee, Ahn Curie, Paek Sun Ha, Chang Sang Sik, Koo Jung Jin, Yoon Hyun Soo, Hwang Jung Hye, Hwang Youn Young, Park Ye Soo, Oh Sun Kyung, Kim Hee Sun, Park Jong Hyuk, Moon Shin Yong, Schatten Gerald. Patient-specific embryonic stem cells derived from human SCNT blastocysts. Science. 2005;308:1777–1783. doi: 10.1126/science.1112286. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/308/5729/1777.
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