SENCER E-Newsletter, January/February 2006, Volume 5, Issue 5
Stem Cell Research and Infractions of Integrity
Danielle Kraus, SENCER Project Associate
"Dr. Hwang's paper was hailed as a breakthrough, opening the possibility of cures for degenerative diseases."
- BBC News (December 15, 2005)
"The case has highlighted how the increasingly rapid pace of science, and rising international competition, may be intensifying the temptation to fake results..."
- Rob Stein. "Ethics in Research Debated," The Washington Post (December 25, 2005)
The latest stem-cell controversy has jarred the scientific community in two respects. It swept away the promise of an easier way to generate stem cells and the work was found to be entirely fraudulent - raising questions about scientific checks and balances. Unlike most debates on stem cell research, the ethical questions arise not from the origins of cells in research or the implications of future applications, but the research methods used. Although Dr. Hwang, the lead researcher on the South Korean project, asserted that the procedure for constructing a stem cell does work, news that not just the results, but also his methods of securing human eggs, were falsified only ruined hope of any salvageable claims in the paper.
Stem cell research is one of many controversial scientific topics, a mix of policy, science, and ethical issues. The larger issue that Dr. Hwang's "findings" evokes is a breach in scientific integrity and its consequences within and beyond academia. So much of public policy is - and needs to be - based on scientific research that a high-profile scandal like this involves more than a flawed journal review panel. It has the capacity to upset public policy, health, regulations, and future research. And, when the very definition of science has been at issue recently, passing off faulty methods as factual is that much more damaging.
In an academic context, what kind of impact do you think this will have on emerging research, especially concerning controversial topics? On training future scientists? How can we safeguard scientific research and preserve academic integrity while participating in the race to be first? How do we address the ethical challenges within the "capacious" topics that frame our SENCER work? How does this incident shed light on the issue of cheating and concerns regarding academic integrity on our campuses?