Author of Debunked Stem-Cell Papers Apologizes
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk today apologized for publishing two fraudulent papers on embryonic stem research, but he repeated earlier claims that he had been deceived by junior scientists. In an emotional news conference in Seoul, he accepted full responsibility and asked the people of South Korea for forgiveness. Reporter Jon Herskovitz was at the news conference. He joins me now.
JON HERSKOVITZ reporting:
Hi. Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Did Hwang offer any further explanation for the fabricated data?
HERSKOVITZ: He took responsibility for the data coming out that ended up being produced by his team. But he also tried to shift blame for the fabrication to junior researchers who are associated with the hospital that provided human ova for his testing. He thinks that there may have been a conspiracy out to discredit him, and he's pointing the finger at these researchers in this hospital.
MONTAGNE: What was his explanation why they would have conspired against him?
HERSKOVITZ: There are many reasons. One could be jealousy. Others could be that some people in South Korea weren't happy with this university being so far advanced. There may be conspiracy theories going around, but I think he's looking at mostly jealousy from his fellow team members and specifically from this hospital.
MONTAGNE: Is there a possibility of criminal prosecution? Did he break any laws there in South Korea?
HERSKOVITZ: Yes. Prosecutors have started a criminal probe into Dr. Hwang for misappropriation of state funds. His lab received well over $10 million, perhaps $20 million, in state funding for its research. And also, he received other perks from the state. In addition, the prosecutors are looking into Hwang's allegations of the conspiracy, so the prosecutors have many things that they're looking at. But these are the two main things, the criminal probe against Hwang and Hwang's accusations that someone was out to get him.
MONTAGNE: Well, as this has, you know, sort of shaken down, is there any part of his research on human cloning that was legitimate?
HERSKOVITZ: Most of it has been proven to be fabricated. In the final report produced on Tuesday by Seoul National University, they did indicate that Hwang was on to something with the creation of human blastocytes, early embryos, but what he had done had been quite unstable. They said that there was a very minor success, but almost all of the data, all of his main claims, were based on fabricated data.
MONTAGNE: So for this scientist that we've suddenly come to know based on this work and then this scandal, is his career over? What happens to him now?
HERSKOVITZ: Well, he said that today he's going to do his best to fade into the sunset. But there's still quite a number of people here who support him, and he is one of the world's best scientists when it comes to cloning of animals. His team cloned the first dog, considered very difficult to do because of the reproductive cycles. He's cloned other animals, as well. Human cloning is something that he has not been able to do. The embryonic stem cell research has also proved difficult, elusive for him. But he does have some accomplishments.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us.
HERSKOVITZ: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Reporter Jon Herskovitz in Seoul, South Korea.
This is NPR News.