December 26, 2005
Written by C.N.
As you may have heard and as many news organizations such as CBS News have reported, South Korea medical scientist Hwang Woo-suk has recently resigned from his university position after it was revealed that his research, which was initially touted as a breakthrough success in the area of stem cell research, was mostly if not entirely fabricated:
In a May paper published in the journal Science, Hwang claimed to have created 11 stem-cell lines matched to patients in an achievement that raised hopes of creating tailored therapies for hard-to-treat diseases. But one of his former collaborators last week said nine of the 11 cell lines were faked, prompting reviews by the journal and an expert panel at Seoul National University, where Hwang works as a professor. . . .
The university panel of investigators said Hwang’s fabrication was a deliberate deception that has undermined the credibility of science. The university’s announcement of results so far in its investigation into Hwang’s work were the first confirmation of allegations that have cast a shadow over all of his purported breakthroughs in cloning and stem-cell technology. . . .
The South Korean government, which had strongly supported Hwang and designated him the country’s first “top scientist,” said Friday it was “miserable” over the reported results of the investigation and will start its own probe over ethics breaches.
As an academic myself, of course I strongly condemn his dishonesty as an affront to the rest of us who are doing legitimate academic research. But just as important, as an Asian American, I also condemn his dishonesty for several reasons. First, his actions are likely to damage the scientific work of other Asian and Asian American researchers, who unfortunately, will be seen as potentially suspicious, merely by association as a fellow Asian.
In other words, just as virtually all Chinese Americans — and by implication all Asian Americans — were seen as potential spies several years ago due to the alleged actions of a few (later to be acquitted of virtually all charges), the same scenario is likely to be repeated here as the honesty and integrity of Asian and Asian American scientists may get called into question.
Unfortunately, I see Hwang’s actions as another unfortunate example of the unending drive for status and material forms of “success” and recognition that is all too common among Asians and Asian Americans. In many ways, I sometimes feel that Asians and Asian Americans are frequently the most status-conscious group of people on earth. If this drive helps to inspire many of us to become legitimately successful, that’s one thing.
But in cases like this, I also see it leading some to go beyond the bounds of professionalism, integrity, and legitimacy, all in a desperate effort to try to prove that we’re just as good or even better than others — especially other races of people. I hope we all learn from this unfortunate episode that the drive for status and recognition has to have it limits.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Fabricated Stem Cell Research in Korea" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/12/fabricated-stem-cell-research-in-korea/> ().
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