This forum is in permanent archive mode. Our new active community can be found here.

Woo Suk Hwang looks for paper retraction...

edited December 2005 in Technology
Not sure how many of you are following this:

Seems that Hwang has buckled under the scrutiny and asked for his breakthrough paper to be retracted.

Whether or not he actually falsified any data is going to be a subject of deep investigation, I imagine, and this whole debacle will probably serve as an example to future generations of scientists.

It again brings up the importance of ethics and honesty in science; in all areas, data falsification is a big problem and needs to be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Science is not immune to the failings of humans, and that's why this sort of scrutiny is necessary.

Of course, one might make a case that this is an example of petty feuding; this really started when one US scientist asked for his name to be withdrawn from the paper, leading to this shitstorm. I can see that jealousy might be a factor here, as cutting edge research is fraught with tense competition, and a lot of less ethical scientists will do nearly anything to discredit the "opposition." The competitive aspect of research fields has many beneficial side effects, but sometimes it seems as though the negative aspects can overshadow that.

What do people think about this whole situation, and what about its ethical implications? Since Scott and Rym aren't scientists by trade, perhaps we can get a good forum discussion going to supplement the 'cast.


  • It might be of interest to know that it is required that any graduate student that receives government funding in the US (NIH, NSF, etc) must complete an ethics course in order to graduate. It could be years before a verdict comes out on what actually happened, a case at Baylor took 7 but that was with the accused fighting the accusations the whole way.

    A negative from this that I'm afraid of is if the media tries to put this out for the general public and scientists as a whole get stereotyped as unethical so we should take away their funding and put it somewhere else. I imagine this is going to further hurt any advancements that'll happen with the stem cell research, whether its because they'll cut/take back funding and probably put more restrictions on it as well.
  • I'm aware of that requirement, but it's really not much of a barrier; I'm sure executives of Enron took an ethics course at some point during their undergraduate careers.

    Ethics is not a thing which can be taught or legislated, but we must somehow hold people accountable for the lack thereof. It's a tricky business, and humans being the way they are, it will remain as such.

    One issue I have with the media portrayal of scientists, other than the general gross inaccuracies in trying to explain science to the populace at large, is the uneven treatment of these ethical cases. More than likely, this one instance is going to get blown out of proportion, and a big stink will be raised. Meanwhile, if a pharmaceutical company cuts corners on their research and has to pull a product from the shelf, there is a bit of a stink, but it never seems to linger so much. Mostly, I'm afraid that pundits will use this to further their own anti-science agendas.
  • I know ethics can't be taught, hell for my classes most of the class fell asleep for the entire hour and woke up to only sign the attendance sheet. One of the things I did take away from the class is in the US if you get busted for fabricating data your funding is taken away and you can't get government funding for 3 years afterwards. Doesn't stop the unethical from jumping to a biotech company to do research for 3 years.

    And I originally did this to try and show that we have some way of punishing these people and now I've realized every devious way to get around it. Like you don't have to tell employers or anything about the incident and blarg... you bring out the cynic in me.

    As for pharmaceutical companies not making a stink I think that's simply because they have so much money to throw around and shut people up.
  • Yeah, ethics has this sort of inherent conflict with good business. Let's say you are a chief decision maker at a company. You have to make what decision you think is best. Ethics are a factor in that decision, but sometimes a very unethical course of action is best. What to do?

    You could hire an ethics expert to manage the company, but sometimes he would make very bad decisions for the company. You could hire a thieving bastard who would sometimes do evil.

    No matter what your job is or who you are, you will do some shady things now and then. As a society we can't expect to eliminate unethicalness. It will always be in someone's best interests to do something unethical, and you can't really blame them for doing what's best for themselves. What we have to do is manage the side effects of the inevitable unethical actions of members of society so that we aren't all fucked over by some guy who ruins the economy or poisons everybody with fake science.
  • That's the tricky part: managing the side effects. A lot of times, an unethical decision doesn't have a huge impact; some people get screwed and one guy benefits. The real problem is when someone's unethical or shady practice say, I don't know, causes an innocous medication to cause spontaneous abortions.

    However, one can have another issue that's even more damaging; even if Hwang DID falsify data, the actual direct impact on other people is minimal. The problem is, that won't stop people who are responsible for making decisions from unfairly characterizing scientists as unethical hacks. Managing public perception of the lack of ethics is often more problematic than the consequences of the actual decision itself.
Sign In or Register to comment.