- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

SEOUL — Few careers in the generally staid world of science have plunged so catastrophically as that of Hwang Woo-suk, who resigned his professorship yesterday after a panel found he had fabricated results that had been hailed as a breakthrough in stem-cell research.

But the shock felt in the global scientific community is nowhere near as profound as that shaking South Korea, a nation that had placed Mr. Hwang on a pedestal for bringing unheard of recognition and respect to its scientific prowess.

“Koreans have become so used to the compressed growth of the economy and other fields that they suffer a chronic illness of hastiness, approximation and the moral hazard of justifying the means with the purpose,” the leading JoongAng Ilbo newspaper editorialized.

Mr. Hwang and his team have, in the last two years, astonished the world with claims to have produced stem-cell lines matching the DNA of patients, a major breakthrough in cloning research.

An investigative panel formed by Seoul National University found yesterday that the veterinarian fabricated nine of the 11 stem-cell lines he claimed to have cultured in a paper published in the U.S. journal Science this year.

Stem cells are essentially “blank slates”; their sourcing from human embryos raises the possibility of producing programmable cells to culture into tailored tissues or organs.

The university, had, after initial hesitation, established a panel to investigate charges by colleagues, both domestic and international, that Mr. Hwang had falsified research.

Investigations are also underway in the journals that have published Mr. Hwang’s papers, including an August work in which he claimed to have cloned a dog.

“I apologize to the people for creating shock and disappointment,” a harried Mr. Hwang, who has recently been hospitalized for stress, said to a mob of reporters and photographers as he left his office yesterday.

In strongly neo-Confucian South Korea education, where scholars and educators are revered, Mr. Hwang had been a rarity — an academic who became a national star.

Smart, open and media savvy, he was chosen to advise marketing panels on how to upgrade South Korea’s international image. He was granted free first-class flights on Korean Air, the national carrier.

Moreover, the government enthusiastically endorsed and funded his work, as they attempted to promote South Korea as a regional hub for biotechnology.

In June, Mr. Hwang was appointed South Korea’s first ever “supreme scientist,” a title that came with nearly $3 million in research funds every year for five years.

Those perks and plaudits are being withdrawn. The Ministry of Science and Technology said yesterday that it would retract funding for Mr. Hwang’s research.

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