With considerable disappointment, the editors of Scientific American are immediately removing Dr. Woo Suk Hwang from his honored position as Research Leader of the Year on the 2005 Scientific American 50 list.
Dr. Hwang famously announced in Science last June that he and his team at Seoul National University in Korea had cloned human embryonic stem cells from 11 patients. Published accounts appearing this morning, however, report that one of his co-authors, Dr. Sung Il Roh, now says that Dr. Hwang admits that much of the evidence in his Science paper was faked. He further alleges that Dr. Hwang has asked Science to withdraw that paper. Dr. Hwang was not available for comment.
This admission follows the discovery in recent weeks that some of the experiments conducted in Dr. Hwang¿s laboratory did not meet the highest standards of ethical practice. Specifically, some women were paid to donate eggs for use in the experiments, and some of the eggs came from junior female researchers working in the laboratory.
The allegations of ethical misconduct were very troubling, but Scientific American¿s editors felt it was important to give Dr. Hwang the benefit of the doubt until their veracity could be determined. Even when those charges were borne out, we respected that the ethics of accepted practice in this area of science were still somewhat murky, and we declined to judge him too quickly, although his cover-up of those problems was clearly wrong.
However, scientific fraud is an unforgivable offense against the enterprise of research, and in this case, it completely invalidates the selection of Dr. Hwang for inclusion in the Scientific American 50.
Dr. Hwang¿s deceit misled Scientific American along with the international scientific community. We regret, in writing about his work and awarding him a place among key technology leaders, having unknowingly misinformed readers about his actual accomplishments. We are also deeply concerned about the lasting damage that this fraud may do to the reputation of stem cell research, which we continue to regard as a highly worthy endeavor generally pursued by scientists keeping to a far higher standard of honesty and ethics.