If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Stem cell scandal

February 27, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 9

I believe Rudy Baum erred in drawing conclusions about the South Korean stem cell research scandal as the story was unfolding (C&EN, Dec. 5, 2005, page 5). It is certainly worthwhile to report on a story as it is developing, but if further information presents a different conclusion, the editor has made a grievous mistake in judgment in jumping the gun (ready-fire-aim). That's why we scientists complete our experiments before we publish results. Information in the press that surfaced a few days after the editorial was published suggests that the researcher may have manufactured phony data. ACS will be forever remembered as the apologist for the guilty.

I also think that Baum confuses the standards of conduct (both legal and ethical) between research activities and commercial activities. There should be ethical concern if researchers go to the marketplace to buy human eggs. Society recognizes that marketplace motives (profit oriented) are often different from desired research motives (objectivity). There have been too many documented cases of research activities being "tainted" with money chasing commercial outcomes. Whether it is Food & Drug Administration employees moonlighting for pharmaceutical companies, company-sponsored research that selectively publishes partial results, or drug advertising that tells only half the story, society simply has a different standard for these two entirely different activities. Because something is legal or ethical in the marketplace doesn't mean that it is ethical (or even legal) in research.

Finally, the overarching legitimate ethical concern is whether the entire chain of activities in stem cell research is going to lead to the manufacture of synthetic people. To claim that one activity within that chain does not, in Baum's opinion, constitute an ethical dilemma is missing the big picture.

Tony Pavone
El Granada, Calif.

I read Baum's editorial in which he essentially defended celebrated South Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang's acquisition of human eggs for his stem cell research. Several days afterward, there was a news conference at which Hwang admitted to numerous ethical breaches including falsifying data and thus withdrew his recent Science publication. It seems that "Scrambled Ethics" was more appropriate a title than Baum intended. In fact, it now appears the shoe is on the other foot and the title is a self-indictment of politically influenced views of ethics. Ethics should be rational and objective, based on accepted definitions of "life" in the case of stem cells. Since we as a scientific community cannot come to consensus on what defines life, we must have another externally derived definition.

Todd Blonshine
Cary, N.C.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.