Between March 2004 and the end of 2005, South Korean veterinarian Woo-Suk Hwang rose from relative obscurity to become the world's most famous scientist.
His rise to international renown began when he reported, in the March 12, 2004, edition of the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science, to have created the first cloned human embryos and embryonic-stem-cell line. Hwang's reputation really hit the stratosphere last May after he reported in Science that he had derived eleven patient-specific embryonic-stem-cell lines using a variant of the same procedure. In barely more than one year, Hwang had gone from relative obscurity outside of Korea to being an internationally celebrated Nobel laureate-in-waiting whose influence knew no national boundaries.
Then, late last month, Hwang was exposed as a charlatan. He had manufactured no patient-specific cloned embryonic-stem-cell lines in 2005. His "proof" of having done so had been manipulated and forged. His 2004 paper also came under suspicion after it was discovered that the purported photograph of the first cloned stem-cell line was actually of a natural stem cell line, apparently plagiarized from an earlier journal article. Hwang resigned from his university in disgrace and is now perhaps the world's most infamous scientist.
Where's the Media Mea Culpa?
But enough about Hwang. The other story here is the media's attempt to shore up public perception of embryonic-stem-cell research and therapeutic cloning even in the midst of the implosion of its most exciting "breakthrough" and the utter discrediting of the field's most promising star.
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