29 May 2013

Which is harder: resurrecting a mammoth, or a scientific career?

Woo-suk Hwang’s career seemed to have flamed out a few years ago among charges of data fabrication.

Today, I read that he is still doing science. And that he is part of a deal to clone a mammoth.

This is surprising to me in several ways. First, that Hwang is still doing any sort of science at all caught me off guard. Second, it is a bit weird that of all the things Hwang’s name re-emerges in connection with, it would be something as fringe sounding as mammoth cloning.

I am also surprised that in the press release, Hwang’s ethical issues are notable only for their absence:

Last year, Grigoryev’s Northeastern Federal University signed a deal with cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, who in 2005 created the world’s first cloned dog.

In contrast, Wired UK does not overlook this:

Also, while Northeastern University did sign a prominent agreement with South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in 2011 to clone a mammoth using recovered mammoth bone marrow, there has been little news from the programme since. Many observers have been sceptical it can achieve its aims, especially as it's led by geneticist Hwang Woo-Suk -- the man who was exposed for faking research in 2006 when he claimed to have cloned human stem cells.

Nor does CNET:

North-Eastern Federal University has partnered with controversial South Korean cloning scientist Hwang Woo-Suk (who was found to have faked data involving a procedure to clone human embryonic stem cells) for a mammoth-cloning effort.

What should the reporting of this story be? Should Hwang’s past be mentioned? I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I do believe that people can change. Hwang’s past may not be relevant to this project. Hwang did achieve many genuine successes, notably the first cloned dog, Snuppy. The scientific community has, in general, not given people found guilty of data fabrication second chances. And Hwang’s record is, well, note-worthy.

External links

Russian scientists make rare find of 'blood' in mammoth
Scientists poke frozen mammoth, liquid blood squirts out
Scientists uncover frozen mammoth, blood flows out
New mammoth comes with grains of salt
Nature’s special report on Woo-suk Hwang

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