• The Stem-Cell Scam

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    The big news
    on Friday morning was that the South Korean stem cell researcher
    Dr. Hwang Woo Suk has been accused by
    a former collaborator of fabricating the evidence in favor of therapeutic
    cloning. Nine of eleven stem-cell lines, supposedly created by Dr.
    Hwang using the technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer,
    were apparently faked, according to his one-time co-author, Dr.
    Roh Sung Il.

    Dr. Hwang
    emerged from the hospital where he had been treated for "stress"
    and held a belated press conference denying some of the charges.
    Dr. Roh promptly called him a liar. But Dr. Hwang did ask Science
    magazine to withdraw the "breakthrough" paper that the
    journal had published under his byline. Earlier in the week his
    American co-author, Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh
    had asked that his name be removed from the same paper. He had "substantial
    doubts about its accuracy." Science was reluctant to comply
    at that point, saying that all the co-authors (there were 24 of
    them) would have to agree as to the paper’s defects. But by Friday
    Dr. Hwang had asked that the paper be withdrawn and Science was
    happy to comply.

    But the damage
    already done to the cause of bio-engineering is immense. Gina Kolata
    published an article for the New York Times under the headlined
    "Clone Scandal: ‘A Tragic Turn’ for Science." Earlier
    this year, Dr. Hwang also claimed to have been the first to clone
    a dog, and the evidence for that, too, will have to be reviewed.
    Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass.
    has expressed doubts about the parenthood of Snuppy, the cloned
    dog.

    Since Dr.
    Hwang’s claims of unprecedented success in the field of cloning
    began appearing earlier this year, our leading newspapers and journals
    have been filled with the anguished cries of Hollywood producers,
    Nobel Prize winners and famous journalists. America is falling behind
    the rest of the world, they have said. Our ethical objections to
    the latest techniques are outmoded, an anachronism in the modern
    world; as demonstrated by the tiny but up-to-date and fully funded
    outpost in Seoul. How could we hope to remain proud Americans and
    world leaders if we insisted on denying our scientists access to
    the Federal money that they need? It was an argument intended to
    appeal to just those Americans who believe that nothing should be
    allowed to stand in the way of American primacy. This equated American
    advancement with government spending — the concealed premise
    of the argument.

    Some still
    cling to that fallacious equation. The Coalition for the Advancement
    of Medical Research, a lobbying group backed by U.S. universities
    — themselves heavily reliant on government money for research
    — said that the South Korean fiasco "is just another
    reason that this field of research should be allowed to be conducted
    in the U.S." under government supervision. In South Korea,
    the now-repudiated findings were government financed all along.
    It’s important to emphasize that stem cell research in the U.S.
    is perfectly legal. It’s just that the access to Federal funding
    is restricted. As I point out in my recently published book
    The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science
    (Regnery,
    2005), in which I discuss some of these issues and review the lengthy
    history of fraud in the cloning field, privately funded biotechs
    indeed have taken a stab at stem cell research. But it turned out
    to be far more difficult than had been at first suspected. The share
    price of one or two leading biotechs collapsed when those difficulties
    became apparent. At that point there was a big push by patient advocacy
    and activist groups to reach into the taxpayers’ pockets on a state
    by state basis.

    Californians
    duly supported a $3 billion initiative. But don’t look for stem
    cell treatments any time soon. The developments in South Korea are
    an embarrassment to some, especially to the hapless taxpayers of
    South Korea, but if these developments have the effect of making
    us all more suspicious of breakthroughs made in the name of bio-engineering,
    we will all have learned a useful lesson. And we will have learned
    it at the expense of Korean taxpayers rather than at our own expense.

    December
    19, 2005

    Tom
    Bethell [send him mail]
    is a senior editor of The American Spectator. The
    Politically Incorrect Guide to Science
    (Regnery) was published
    November 14.

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