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December 15, 2005

Comments

Chuckles

The news doesnt suprise me much. When science is surrounded by such an atmosphere of nationalistic fervor, something is bound to get faked. Chalk this up to the same attitude which "created" and then "banned" "Jewish physics".

We can not expect soul searching from the Koreans - not now, not in 5 years. The reason is simple: A siege mentality, nurtured griefs and a desperate need for vengeance will not permit soul searching on this issue. What will happen is the HWS will continue to be hailed as a national hero who made a couple of mistakes - and it is morally reprehensible for him to be stabbed in the back by his own folks - especially during this trying moment when he most needs their support.

We should also expect to hear theories of how the USA betrayed HWS and how the USA is behind all the brouhaha in a bid to humiliate Korea and continue to keep it subservient. At least 7 conspiracy theories with several variants will may be expected to be deployed.

Random attacks on Japan may also be expected as a result of this incident.

Anyhoo - my major disappointment is with regards to the reputation of "Science", the magazine - and the sneaking feeling that perhaps there was just to much politics embroiled in this issue for my liking anyway.

The widespread collaboration which the faked results suggest is troubling. Such collective, hive mind thinking among scientists is to be deplored - particularly when it occurs outside the global warming crowd.

Won Joon Choe

Abiola,

The BBC story you are quoting is a bit out-dated; or to be more precise, some of the information on it that you've latched onto is outdated.

Among the passages from the BBC story you quoted:

"Leading companies have pulled their advertisements from the television station that first revealed the reported problems with Dr Hwang's work.

Many commentators said it was unpatriotic to challenge someone who had given the country a lead in such a promising new area."

These things occurred when the controversy first arose and when it was not clear that Hwang's research was a fraud. Now the public opinion is oscillating the other way with vengeance, and MBC is beginning to emerge as a hero in the national consciousness.

Chuckles,

"We can not expect soul searching from the Koreans - not now, not in 5 years. The reason is simple: A siege mentality, nurtured griefs and a desperate need for vengeance will not permit soul searching on this issue. What will happen is the HWS will continue to be hailed as a national hero who made a couple of mistakes - and it is morally reprehensible for him to be stabbed in the back by his own folks - especially during this trying moment when he most needs their support."

You are dead wrong; Hwang is being dropped like a hot sack of potatoes by his former supporters. Witness, to name one example, the somersault in the Chosun's coverage of Hwang. I don't think you understand how mercurial--indeed reminiscent of Ionesco's Rhinoceros--South Korean public opinion has been. If anything, Hwang will be demonized now and scapegoated for the entire affair.

I do agree that not much "soul searching" or reforms will likely emerge out of this. Again, Hwang will be be scapegoated, and the system will escape domestic scrutiny--as it always has.

Andrew

"Anyhoo - my major disappointment is with regards to the reputation of "Science", the magazine - and the sneaking feeling that perhaps there was just to much politics embroiled in this issue for my liking anyway."

The thing about the peer review process is that reviewers have to take on faith that the data presented are real - what they critique are methods, interpretation, whether the data are convincing, etc. It's not really feasible for referees to go snooping around in people's lab notebooks to make sure that the experiments were real, and saying "Let me see your original images." The best you can do in terms of detecting faking is looking for data that look too good to be true, clumsy image "enhancement" (eg cutting and pasting pieces of Western blots), etc. If you are clever and determined to fake the results, the reviewers won't pick up on it, and this shouldn't reflect on the reputation of the journal Science, certainly not in the way that the Jayson Blair scandal did on the NYTimes or Stephen Glass on TNR.

There was a paper a few months ago titled "why most published research findings are false" (the argument went something like: most hypotheses are false, but lots of these false hypotheses get tested and 5% of them come up true simply because statistical significance is assessed as p < 0.05). This effect naturally applies even more strongly in fields that are "hot" and filled with competing labs trying to publish first - even without outright fraud, anything interesting that comes up will immediately be published even if it is wrong by chance.

"The widespread collaboration which the faked results suggest is troubling. Such collective, hive mind thinking among scientists is to be deplored - particularly when it occurs outside the global warming crowd."

There's no indication - yet - that the faked results were a result of a conspiracy among all 24 authors. (It was, in fact, one of the co-authors who made the accusations today.) Probably what happened is that Hwang and possibly a couple others made up data and convinced the other authors that it was true (and to be honest, probably most of the authors didn't do any actual work for the study - they're just there because they were hospital administrators like Roh Sung-il or whatever - this is true of a lot of biomedical research that is logistically complicated and involves human tissue).

Andrew

PS - what I find remarkable about this is that apparently it was the boss who faked the data. In the cases that I'm familiar with, what usually happens is that some underling "enhances" the data and convinces the boss that it's real, who then signs off on the paper unknowingly.

By the way, the NYTimes has some new information on what exactly the fabrications were - it appears to be the same old thing with copy-and-pasted images, hand-drawn lines. Interestingly, it was apparently young Korean scientists who first noticed the flaws in the data, suggesting that the self-correcting mechanisms of science are operating normally and haven't been shut down by nationalistic fervor.

http://nytimes.com/2005/12/15/science/15cnd-clone.html

["Although the new disclosures are being presented as a blow for South Korean science, they can also be seen as a triumph for a cadre of well-trained young Koreans for whom it became almost a pastime to turn up one flaw after another in his work. All or almost all the criticisms that eventually brought him down were first posted on Web sites used by young Korean scientists."]

Chuckles

Won Joon,

[...You are dead wrong; Hwang is being dropped like a hot sack of potatoes by his former supporters...]

Well - Let's wait and see. The pendulum is still swinging. The response to his ethical breach was certainly of the nationalistic stripe - and I see no reason to assume that it will be different pending HWS's own statement as to the veracity of his findings. Pending the results of the investigation, and the language such results are couched in - I maintain my position.
The support for HWS from "Science" is consistent. HWS himself requested that SNU investigate his findings - an investigation that would never have occurred had the Schatten lab not started its own initiative. And some of the more damaging of the MBC allegations have been discredited.
I think that what will happen is that "significant breaches of ethical and scientific protocol" will be reported that "do not in an overall manner jeopardize the results of stem cell cloning results" - or something of that sort.
In fact, it seems that the media put pressure on members of his Lab to denounce him. The most serious allegations have already been thrown out - all that is left is the pap that is to follow.

http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=263480&rel_no=1

It is perhaps the moral greyness that will eventually envelope the entire manner that will reinforce the relativistic thinking so neccesary to nationalist thought.

Andrew,

[...The thing about the peer review process is that reviewers have to take on faith that the data presented are real...]

Yes, I see the limitations of the peer review process. Experiments have to be reproducible. Did the HWS project pass that benchmark - pending all the noise and melee in the press? Thats what I mean when I refer to the politics of it all. Its kind of like the Lahn paper also - where you had folks making all kinds of claims. I dont know if anyone has thought to check whether the data reported in the Lahn paper is even true at all.

[...There's no indication - yet - that the faked results were a result of a conspiracy among all 24 authors. (It was, in fact, one of the co-authors who made the accusations today.)...]

Isnt this a contradiction (at least with respect to a significant amount of collaborative cover up)? The fact remains that several people on the team knew that this stuff was going on - and had everything sailed along smoothly money and prestige wise; no one would have said anything! The blabber blabbed only under extreme circumstances. It is safe to assume that (according to the Koreans) had Schatten gotten his way, none of us would have been the wiser. Several people on the team had to have known that something funny was going on - and those people were clearly prepared to play along, forgetting indeed, that there is no honour among thieves.

Andrew

"Experiments have to be reproducible. Did the HWS project pass that benchmark - pending all the noise and melee in the press?"

But that's exactly my point! The reviewers just have to take on faith that the authors are telling the truth about their data - and no one's going to publish data that say came from one single experiment. That is to say, Hwang could have been lying through his teeth in writing, for example, "we repeated this assay six times," but no one would be any the wiser (until now). The only way to reproduce the experiment independently is for another lab to do it *after* the paper has been published. Which is why very cleverly faked data will sail through the review process, but then gets caught when no one else in the scientific community can repeat the results.

"Its kind of like the Lahn paper also - where you had folks making all kinds of claims. I dont know if anyone has thought to check whether the data reported in the Lahn paper is even true at all."

I'm sure someone is or will - other groups will want to expand on the results eventually, even if Lahn's group is currently occupying that "research niche." I think you need to be careful to distinguish bad interpretations of science from bad science - as far as I know, the Lahn paper was seen as well done and pretty straightforward population genetics; it's only the wacky comments surrounding it that are problematic.

"he fact remains that several people on the team knew that this stuff was going on"

I'm not sure where you're getting this from...?

Won Joon Choe

Chuckles,

I apologize for my dismissive reply--esp. the first sentence of mine that you've highlighted. I think we can agree that we are not always as civil as we would like to be in online debates. But the problem, in my part, is due to the fact that I type too quickly for my own good (esp. given that I am not a native English speaker), rather than than due to personal animus.

Anyways, to continue out discussion:

"Well - Let's wait and see. The pendulum is still swinging. The response to his ethical breach was certainly of the nationalistic stripe - and I see no reason to assume that it will be different pending HWS's own statement as to the veracity of his findings."

I think Koreans see the ethical breach issue and the data fabrication issue in a fundamentally different manner. Unlike in the West, Koreans do not see the ethical breach of the type that Hwang committed as a big deal (or that Schatten put his name on a paper whose research and drafting he had virtually no hand on). If anything, it is viewed more or less an attempt to impose a Western standard of research ethics. But while the ethics issue is a grey area, the question of whether Hwang fabricated his cloning accomplishment or not is not a grey area. He either did it or made the whole thing up. I will, however, qualify my views by saying that, yes, the exact nature and extent of Hwang's fabrication will be pivotal in how the Koreans ultimately decide on this issue. To illuminate my point by contrasting two opposite scenarios: If Hwang made up not only data from the Science article, but cloning the dog, and other his high profile achievements, you can bet that he will have to stick his head in an oven Kawabata-style. But if this was an isolated breach, there will be residual sympathy.

"The support for HWS from "Science" is consistent."

I don't see the relevance of this fact regarding our argument about how the South Korean public will judge. Science does not represent or even reflect the South Korean public in any way. Further, their support for Hwang is surely provisional; I am sure they will change their stripes if the allegations concering Hwang prove to have merit.

"HWS himself requested that SNU investigate his findings - an investigation that would never have occurred had the Schatten lab not started its own initiative."

One could argue that a petition for an investigation by SNU's junior faculty had more impact on SNU's decision to investigate than the Schatten initiative.

"And some of the more damaging of the MBC allegations have been discredited."

And what allegations would they be? I don't know if you read Korean, but the latest rumblings in the Korean media is precisely the opposite. For instance, Han-Guk-Il-Bo here argues that (as the title itself adumbrates) virtually every allegation made by the MBC program seems confirmed:

http://news.hankooki.com/lpage/culture/200512/h2005121600113075670.htm

Won Joon Choe

"PS - what I find remarkable about this is that apparently it was the boss who faked the data. In the cases that I'm familiar with, what usually happens is that some underling "enhances" the data and convinces the boss that it's real, who then signs off on the paper unknowingly."

Andrew,

It is totally unremarkable in Korean context. Korean institutions are run in a very top-down manner, and the underlings have very little leeway to do anything on their own. You would never be able to get away with these type of things in Korea without the boss' sanction.

Chuckles

[...But that's exactly my point...]

Doesnt make me less averse to the all too widespread penchant for scientific politicking! I mean - there were already talks about a Nobel prize - at such a premature stage too! My beef is not with the peer review mechanism. My beef is with scientists who covertly or overtly support or append "popular" and "political" interpretations to their work - or the work of others: when clearly much is left to be done - especially those scientists who are supposed to know better. What happened to skepticism? Dont you think that the initial response to his claims would be to demand verification? After all, this was the treatment that the Raelians got! Why is it just now, after hailing HWS to the moon and back, that some smart asses are even thinking to "verify" his work?

[...I'm not sure where you're getting this from...?...]

Err - The News?

http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp? enu=&no=260077&rel_no=1&back_url=

http://english.ohmynews.com/ArticleView/article_view.asp?no=264054&rel_no=1

We have at least four names now - HWS, Dr. Gang Sung Keun, Kim Sun Jong, Roh Sung Il. All these folks were associated with the project. One doesnt need Holmes to see that this fish was rotting seriously at the head. The rest is elementary.

Won Joon Choe

Chuckles,

1. The news story you've appended is dated November 23, 2005. It is seriously out-dated. The more recent consensus in the media is represented by the Han-Guk-Il-Bo news article that came on a few hours ago.

2. Ohmynews in general should be the last source of your Korean news anyways. It is a journalistic version of Wikipedia. Sure, some folks who write for them are excellent (just as in Wikipedia), but one should always be ware of "citizen journalism" vehicles with "reporters" that do not face the same supervision and editorial verification process you go through elsewhere.

"One doesnt need Holmes to see that this fish was rotting seriously at the head."

I didn't deny that; in fact, my instincts were to assume the worst as soon as I heard Schatten backed out. I wouldn't be surprised if some senior members of SNU and the relevant government authorities were complicit.

Chuckles

Won Joon -

This is from Dec 12:

http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=263480&rel_no=1

[...The other allegations, however, may be more damaging, suggesting that he had doctored his data and that much of his research was, as the documentary put it, "fake." Fortunately for Hwang these allegations were quickly discredited, after it appeared that the journalists had suggested the possibility of criminal charges to members of Hwang's team if they did not cooperate in denouncing the research as violating ethical rules. MBC subsequently made a formal apology to viewers, and the documentary itself has been "indefinitely suspended," according to a statement MBC made last week...]

and according to this (Dec 15):

http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/tech/200512/kt2005121523485211780.htm

there is still quite a lot of belief in Hwang. Again, I wait and see how the pendulum swings. The essential thing is to watch the language in which the reports of the investigation will be presented.

My point about the ethics issue is again the notion of moral greyness. The appeal was made to a sense of differing standards between East and West. Results of investigation which give just enough space for this kind of "greyness" will probably not lead to a dismissal of Hwang as a national hero.

[...virtually every allegation made by the MBC program seems confirmed...]

Well - The FT and the Times both report that the wave of sentiment seems to be *against* the MBC and critics of HWS' work.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1140944,00.html

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/9a4e1c12-6d9f-11da-a4df-0000779e2340.html

and this is for both you and Andrew:

http://blog.sciam.com/index.php?title=stem_cell_meltdown&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

[...Hwang, who is in the hospital for treatment of an ulcer, has not been directly quoted to confirm this, but it's damningly suspicious that no one from his camp seems to be stepping forward to deny it, either...]

[...Who knew what when? That June 17 Science paper has 25 coauthors. It's easy right now to focus all the attention on Hwang because he was the principle investigator and rightly did have ultimate responsibility for the project. For example, Hwang said that some of the enthusiastic female researchers in his lab had gone behind his back to donate their own eggs even though he had counseled them not to. Still, as the principle investigator in the lab, he should have known where all the materials came from, so that's not much of an excuse. But surely at least some of those other coauthors had to have known that something fishy was going on if indeed so much of the data was falsified. If they didn't know, why not? Not to pick on Gerald Schatten, but what exactly was his role in this research supposed to be and, in retrospect, did he discharge those responsibilities as well as he should? In short, how many of the names on that author list are at least as guilty as Hwang seems to be in having perpetrated and covered up a scientific fraud? (And again, not to make excuses for him, but is it conceivable that Hwang supervised all those coworkers so loosely that he didn't know the extent of the fabrication until too late?)...]

I see no evidence to suggest that sentiment is mounting against HWS - Indeed, what I can read in the Western medium is that support for him is still strong. Again, more scientists are beginning to question the roles of all those involved in this episode, including all 25 coauthors.


Chuckles

Won Joon -

The stuff from OMN is confirmed by external sources, in this case.

Furthermore the 2nd link is Dec 15. The material is consistent.

And I see nothing in this:

http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/tech/200512/kt2005121523485211780.htm

to suggest that a media consensus exists that documents rising opposition to HWS.

Won Joon Choe

"I see no evidence to suggest that sentiment is mounting against HWS - Indeed, what I can read in the Western medium is that support for him is still strong."

Chuckles,

Do you read Korean? You did not respond to me when I first asked the question. I suspect you do not (but apologize in advance if you do), because if you could read Korean, you will see the 180 degree turn in South Korean public opinion since Roh's bombshell statements--reflected in the Korean media and message boards.

Even the Korea Times article you've appended actually seems to prove my point. It notes:

"...most of the bulletin boards in major portal services were flooded with criticism against Hwang."

But here's the deficit you face when you are relying on English versions of the news. First, as I've mentioned several times, a lot of that is outdated. First, there is a lag between the time the Korean newspapers post their news stories online and the time they post a translated version (if you even visit the Korean newspaper sites). Second, the two English Korean dailies are also usually half a day or so. Third, the same goes for Western press. For instance, though the Roh declaration--which was the pivot on which the public opinion turned--broke almost a full day ago, the New York Times didn't carry a story until until a few hours ago. So by relying on non-Korean sources when it comes to breaking stories--esp. a story that is so kaleidescopic as this one--your information is necessarily outdated.

Further, the information available to you will be necessarily compressed; the Financial Times certainly isn't posting 15 articles about this particular news a day, posted almost as it happened (i.e., the opening remarks of the SNU press conference was posted something like 15 minutes after it began in the Chosun Ilbo).

I find it difficult, frustrating, and almost pointless to argue with someone when they do not have the latest information and--perhaps more important--there is information lag due to the language competence issue.

Be that as it may, here is something that was recently posted:

http://kr.news.yahoo.com/service/news/shellview.htm?articleid=2005121601213434470&linkid=4&newssetid=831

I am not sure if Abiola's Blog will break the link; so let me just post the relevant part in Korean.

"분위기 뒤바뀐 두 방송사의 인터넷 게시판'PD수첩'의 인터넷 게시판에는 '당신들이 진정 의지의 한국인입니다', '반성하라 네티즌들이여', '진실은 언제나 승리하는 법' 등의 제목으로 그간의 'PD수첩' 의 노고를 칭찬하는 글들이 올라오고 있다.

15일 방송 이전에 비난 일색의 글들이 올라왔던 것을 감안하면 큰 반전이 이뤄진 것은 분명한 사실...

YTN의 인터넷 시청자 게시판에는 '언론으로서의 자격박탈', '당신들은 뉴스를 방송할 자격이 없다', '오늘 부터 안티YTN에 동참하겠다'는 등의 제목으로 글들이 올라오며 비난의 강도가 시간이 갈 수록 높아지고 있다."

You will find reports of a similar somersault in public opinion if you can read Korean and perused Korean news sites.

This is whole different can of worms, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I am very wary of relying solely on Western journalists in East Asia aside from the time lag (which in the long run isn't that important). Most of the reporters in Asia--even reporters for prestigious publications such as the WSJ, NYT, and WaPo--do not even speak the language, much less have an appreciation of the cultural nuances in the alien lands that they cover. One journalist who used to be the head of one of these publications in a large Asian bureau conceded to me that they practice "parachute journalism." They do not have a firm; one wonders if they ever even touch the ground at all. They often try to fit news stories through their own cultural lenses and thereby utterly distort the phenomena. Certainly, some of the biggest stories emerging from South Korea the last few years have been misreported in the West because they were told with a Western yarn. For instance, Roh's impeachment was seen as a proof of emergence of a culture of the rule of law in South Korea when it was in fact the opposite: a reassertion of the Confucian culture of rule by law (something that to my knowledge only AEI's Nick Eberstadt grasped); in fact, most of the Western press got even their facts wrong, arguing that the Election Commission found violation in Roh's speech when it actually said the opposite (I doubt they even have reliable translators). Another prominent example is that the emergence of Roh (as well Kim Dae Jung) has been explained as an outcome of a new leftist consensus in South Korea (the emergence of the fictive "386" generation) when the most parsimonious explanation is that the conservatives were disunited. But I will spare you the details here since I've published a number of commentaries on these matters, and more are in the press.

I am done for the day; I've already spent way too much time following this story today, and I too have a deadline to meet for an academic journal.

Won Joon Choe

"They do not have a firm..."

I think my keyboard accidentally ate the rest of the phrase.

I meant to say that "They do not have a firm grasp of the terrain;..."

Obviously, there are numerous spelling and grammatical errors, but I don't care to correct them as long as the rest of the piece is intelligible.

P.S. Is there any way that commenters can edit their own posts?

Chuckles

Won Joon:

After that horrible lapse in service...

To cut a long story short and try to get at the gist of my lost response to you:

I am suspicious of your claims of "outdated information" - and your estimates about the reliability of the FT and Times in this affair: but I will grant that you have grounds there to question my interpretation of this matter. As far as I know, several Korean language newspapers have their corresponding English versions: which again, according to you must be subject to the same information lapse you speak of.

[...You did not respond to me when I first asked the question. I suspect you do not (but apologize in advance if you do), because if you could read Korean, you will see the 180 degree turn in South Korean public opinion since Roh's bombshell statements--reflected in the Korean media and message boards...]

No need to apologize. I do not approach competency in Korean as to rely on the Ilbo as my primary source of information on Korea - again, you argue that there is a deficit here - which I am willing to grant: even in the light of the fact that Chosun and other dailies have, what I think to be decent English language coverage in the long run. Be that as it may - I am going to wait for this thing to pan out before I comment on this issue anymore.

Hwang is already defending his research while admitting "significant lapses" which do not in an overall sense jeopardize the findings. Again - like I said would happen.

I believe that Hwang's defense will earn him sympathy - and there will be a backlash on those who pilloried him: again, an argument from sources tainted with the language deficit.

I disagree with you that HWS will be made to face the appropriate wrath neccesitated by even the alleged smaller breaches he has admitted to.

Won Joon Choe

Chuckles,

Thanks for at least understanding my grounds for questioning relying on English language-only sources. But to reiterate: The problem is not merely that the translations of Korean language articles by the Korean language dailies also appear later (sometimes as late as a day later) and create a time lapse. In addition, the Korean dailies do not translate every article on their Korean website. For instance, I don't know how many newspapers translated the Yonhap story that was carried by virtually every Korean newspaper that talked about a movement in Korea now to apologize to and pretty much apotheosize "PD Files" and its staff. Finally, the original Korean articles are often translated in part rather than entire.

As for Hwang's ultimate fate, I've explicitly qualified my prediction in my previous reply by tying it to what the public ultimately learns in regard to the extent of Hwang's wrongdoing. If it turns out that Hwang merely faked a few stem cell pictures but otherwise his research was sound and he can reproduce them as he claims, then your scenario is very possible. As I said, there will be residual sympathy for him. But if his entire research turns out to be one architectonic, comprehensive hoax, then he is finished.

Won Joon Choe

Update:

Schatten may lose his position with the U of Pittsburgh (though I wouldn't completely rely on the Korean newspapers for stuff like this). If so pressure increases on SNU:

http://www.chosun.com/economy/news/200512/200512200037.html

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