Science Adopts Rules After Fake Embryonic Stem Cell Research Papers

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 28, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Science Adopts Rules After Fake Embryonic Stem Cell Research Papers Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 28
, 2006

Seoul, South Korea ( — Leading scientific journal Science has adopted new rules following an investigation into how it could have published two misleading papers from a South Korean scientist and his research team.

The papers made fantastic claims about embryonic stem cell research studies that turned out to be false.

A six-person review committee consisting of stem cell researchers, an editor from the journal Nature, and members of the Science editorial boad determined that the editors of Science followed the correct review procedures at the time the papers were published.

"In handling fraudulent stem-cell research articles, journal editors went above and beyond existing procedures to try and verify the findings, but in today’s competitive publishing environment, more stringent, less trusting safeguards are now essential," the committe said, according to a Science statement obtained.

"The journal’s current procedures, based on an assumption of trust in the basic integrity of the vast majority of researchers, must be revised to acknowledge the risk of misleading, distorted, or fraudulent findings," the committee concluded.

They said new polices the scientific journal has adopted would prevent future problems.

The committee suggested that Science and other leading medical journals adopt a template to use to review high profile papers on controversial scientific or political issues.

High-risk submissions should then be subjected to an additional level of scrutiny, such as more comprehensive access to primary data, the committee said.

Even so, the committee emphasized: "No realistic set of procedures can be completely immune to deliberate fraud."

The committee also said the journals should pay more attention to what role the authors of the papers actually played in the research.

“We are committed to accepting the major findings of the report, and to making our new procedures clear to authors, reviewers, and readers as they are developed,” Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy said.

The investigation began after Science was forced to retract two papers written by Hwang Woo-suk and his research team.

The papers claimed the team created patient specific embryonic stem cells that would overcome the problems of a patient’s immune system rejecting the cells in treatments. The other paper claimed Hwang’s team successfully cloned a human embryo to be killed for her stem cells.

Both claims turned out to be false as the members of the team admitted they faked the research and probes by Seoul National University and the South Korean government confirmed the fraud.

Science retracted the February 2004 and June 2005 papers in January.

Hwang and his team have since been fired from their positions at SNU and Hwang and associates are on trial on charges they embezzled public and private funds meant for research. A conviction could lead to years in prison.

Hwang has since started a new animal cloning lab and hopes to continue the kind of research that led to the creation of Snuppy, the first cloned dog.