South Korea's ambitious plans to boost its biotechnology sector may run into a public-relations problem, if not worse. At least two professors involved in stem-cell research are facing multiple allegations of fraud.
A Korean whistleblower, thus far anonymous, raised questions about 14 papers, all involving Kang Soo-kyung, a professor at Seoul National University (SNU). These were detailed in a 70-slide PowerPoint, available at Retraction Watch. It shows, side by side, discrepancies such as images being used twice, attached to different experimental sets — there are at least 30 instances of this, sometimes with the images being rotated &/or flipped. In other places, data seems to have been manipulated &/or recycled. The whistleblower says he or she found the evidence by accident and does not work in the same field.
Ten journals are involved, including Stem Cells and PLoS ONE, and at least one, Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, has retracted two papers (here and here) and rejected two more that were in press. The retracted papers both now have notes from Kang admitting that "some of the data presented in this manuscript are not accurate."
This scandal immediately brought to mind the Hwang Woo-suk fraud. He was in the same department at the same university, used some of the same forgery techniques, and was partly exposed by anonymous whistleblowers. This time, however, editorials immediately called for investigation, even as Kang insisted that the errors were just mistakes, and that:
About 80 percent of the evidence used against me is false, and I believe we have to consider some malicious intentions involved in this case.
Hwang kept that line up for months; this seems to have lasted a couple of days. Then it came out that Kang Soo-kyung had been reprimanded two years ago for similar fabrications that she managed to pass off as mistakes.
And then her mentor was dragged in. Another investigation was launched, into an even more senior professor, Kang Kyung-sun, who works at the same place. The two Kangs were co-authors on some of the allegedly fabricated papers, and SNU has committed to scrutinizing all papers written by the two researchers, using a third party if necessary. A Korean insider commented:
Since fraudster Hwang Woo-suk, who manipulated the results of his embryonic stem cell cloning research, was caught in 2005, Korea has had to fight ignorance, suspicion and prejudice against Korean scientists' ethics. If a slew of scandals hits once again, the aftereffect will be huge.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Other Countries, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, Stem Cell Research
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