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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

12.16.2005

Faith in Scientists? Hardly

John Derbyshire won't care much for this:

Now comes word that the famed South Korean stem-cell researcher Hwang Wu-suk, who attracted so much attention earlier this year, faked his results. His close collaborator Roh Sung-Il says that the stem cells that Hwang claims to have cloned probably do not exist. He also said that leading authors of the paper have notified the journal Science that they were withdrawing the paper. Science said it had not yet heard from Hwang.

Professor Hwang's work, originally published by Science in June, was hailed as a breakthrough -- a "tremendous advance," according to Stanford University Nobelist Paul Berg. It was also used as an object lesson for retrograde American politicians -- read President Bush -- who had thrown up ethical obstacles to such important research by restricting Federal funding. Americans were being left in the dust by go-ahead scientists from around the world who were not hamstrung by medieval qualms and superstitions, we were warned.

I discuss the South Korean work in my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, published recently by Regnery. I also discuss the history of fraud in the field of cloning more generally.

If Prof. Hwang's claims had been validated, they would have been important for the following reason. The stem-cell lines he said he had created were genetically matched to the donors' DNA. Before Hwang made his claims, embryonic stem-cell therapy was unlikely to have succeeded because the transplanted tissue would likely have been recognized as "foreign" and therefore rejected by the recipient's immune system. But Hwang had obtained DNA from the nucleus of cells of prospective patients, and the resulting stem cells would be transplanted back into these donors. Ergo, there would be no rejection (ran the theory).

Now, it seems that these stem cells never existed. If so, it will be back to the drawing boards for everyone.

At this writing, Prof. Hwang is refusing to say what really happened. But if fraud is confirmed it will be a major setback for stem-cell research worldwide. The underlying science will probably have to be reviewed from scratch. The problem of immune-system rejection itself only became apparently quite recently, which is why Hwang's work was considered so important.



We told you so.

Perhaps it's time for a more materialist analog to Martin Luther to nail 95 Theses to the door of Nature's offices?

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