Oh no! Not again! Not another Korean stem cell fraud!

Michael Cook
Oh no! Not again! Not another Korean stem cell fraud!
Reproduced with Permission

Korean scientists will need more than a stiff drink to recover their joie de vivre after stem cell researcher at Seoul National University admitted that she manipulated data for articles published in an international journal.

Veterinary researcher Kang Soo-kyung was pinged by an anonymous whistleblower who sent the editors of ten journals a 70-slide Powerpoint report on her irregularities. On May 19 Antioxidants & Redox Signaling announced that four of her papers were being retracted, including two in the latest issue. Kang 'fessed up immediately. "In response to allegations brought forth by a reader of this Journal, I take full responsibility as corresponding author and accept that some of the data presented is not accurate. I retract the publication in its entirety from scientific literature," she said in a statement.

However, she also insinuated that the whistleblower was driven by malice. "About 80 percent of the evidence used against me is false," she said. There could be more unsettling revelations, as the whistleblower claims that Kang has been cheating since 2006. "If we don't stop this author now, no one can prove fabrication later on," he wrote. A cloud now hangs over more than a dozen of her studies.

Poor oversight may have contributed to the problem. Kang was hauled before a university committee two years ago after "mistakes" surfaced in a paper for the International Journal of Cancer. Some Korean scientists blame intense pressure and competition. "The school and the government demand their scholars show visible progress in their projects on yearly basis. They are all stressed. What she did is unacceptable but I can see where her deeds came from," one scientist commented on a Korean university blog.

The latest incident is a painful reminder that one of the worst scientific frauds of the past century happened in the same field at the same university by another veterinary researcher. In 2005, after being feted as a national treasure for being the first in the world to clone human embryos and create embryonic stem cells, Hwang Woo Suk turned out to be a fraud. The incident severely tarnished Korea's scientific reputation. This new imbroglio will do nothing to shine it up. - Korea Times, May 29; Korean Herald, May 31