On (not) shunning the disgraced

December 21, 2007

He’s baaaaaack. Woo Suk Hwang of faked cloning fame has been publishing new work (Update 1/2/08: and seeking re-licensure). Nature has the call:

At least three publications, however, have resulted from work after the scandal, from Hwang’s new, privately funded group at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation on the outskirts of Seoul. The articles, published in Animal Production Science 1, Reproduction 2, and Theriogenology 3, all discuss improvements in pig cloning by new methods of cultivating porcine eggs. Hwang is the corresponding author on all.

Okay, he’s a confirmed paper faker. Fired from his job, under threats of all sorts of prosecution.

He is still on trial on charges of fraud, embezzlement and violation of Korean bioethics laws, which could put him away for more than ten years.

And he can still publish? Why?

a reviewer assigned to reading the manuscript raised the issue of Hwang’s involvement. But the reviewer expressed the opinion that the manuscript’s contents did not arouse any issues of concern and that any decision should not be prejudiced by Hwang’s co-authorship.

Oh, this is good. In some ways science harkens to that school of literary criticism that holds that “the author is dead” and all one needs to do is to deal with the actual textual material in front of one. Science has pretensions to this, only more so. Everything is supposed to be verifiable and replicable and we don’t believe things because of the authority of the authoring scientists. And yet.

The scientific research article does indeed require a good deal of trust. That the authors are not simply making sheist up. That they are reporting their methods accurately with no intent to mislead the reader. Etc. So credibility of scientists matters. At least one of the journals has decided, however, that Hwang’s credibility is of little importance because there were no “suspicious” aspects of the manuscript. But is this really the standard? Does this meet all of our goals in the scientific enterprise and community? Is there a right to publish as long as there is no obvious technical fault with a given manuscript?

The inestimable Bill Hooker suggests the virtues of shunning to deal with people who violate the community values. Is that what should be done? Should Hwang be shunned by never being permitted to appear as an author on a scientific publication again?

I tend to think so.

3 Responses to “On (not) shunning the disgraced”

  1. Bikemonkey Says:

    It isn’t like I’d be reading these papers for anything other than casual interest anyway. Who cares? Let him publish and let his fellow cloners bust him where relevant.


  2. physioprof Says:

    Isn’t publishing in “Theriogenology” the equivalent of being shunned?


  3. whimple Says:

    So of course I couldn’t resist looking up the 2006 Impact Factors for these journals…

    Animal Reproduction Science: 2.186
    Reproduction: 2.958
    Theriogenology: 1.898


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