There was a Twitter buzz yesterday about a Science news story on Korean cloning fraud Woo Suk Hwang’s efforts for redemption in the scientific community.
What was the big deal?
It turns out to be a peculiar situation.
The Science Hwang piece by Dennis Normile, entitled “After Fraud, Korean Cloner Seeks Redemption”, was eerily similar in general content and tone to a Nature piece on Hwang that ran just one day earlier by David Cyranosky entitled “Cloning Comeback”.
Apparently these two reporters were among the special few who went to Sooam, Hwang’s foundation.
Nature publishing family Editor Elie Dolgin tweeted good-naturedly yesterday about Nature having scooped Science on the story (see image above). I responded for fun that perhaps the story was cloned since on first read I noticed the pieces were quite similar.
Then I started thinking more carefully about it after I was contacted by some scientists who didn’t think the situation was so humorous.
In fact, most people seem to think it is quite possible that Nature and Science both ended up unintentionally boosting a PR push on the part of Hwang and Sooam.
While the pieces do not steer clear of talking about the past scandals involving Hwang, in both cases there is also quite a bit of what one could characterize as positive text.
Both pieces mention Hwang’s new efforts to de-extinct mammoths and his prolific cloning of dogs in positive terms. Both articles frequently mention puppies specifically, which are of course endearing.
Both articles also invoke China’s big sequencing firm, BGI, which is a Sooam partner, and in fact both pieces also have key quotes from the exact same BGI leader.
Some say that the disgraced icon of science in South Korea has come far on the road to rehabilitation. “For animal cloning, his team is one of the best in the world,” says Yang Huanming, chair of the Chinese sequencing powerhouse BGI-Shenzhen. Eventually, Yang predicts, Hwang “will regain respect from the scientific community.”
Yang Huanming, BGI’s co-founder, says that he was impressed by the level of involvement from Woo Suk Hwang after watching him deliver a litter of cloned pups. “Personally, I like him, how hard he works, and how passionate he is for science,” Yang says.
The Science piece quoted Huanming Yang without disclosing at all the ties between BGI and Hwang, while the Nature piece did not clearly indicate that Sooam/Hwang and BGI are in fact now collaborating specifically on animal cloning–see image below from the Sooam website.
By way of disclosure, UC Davis works with BGI and to be clear I see nothing wrong with BGI collaborating with Sooam, but I think Science and Nature could have been clearer about this situation and it is odd that both journal pieces on Hwang came up with such similar quotes from the same person.
It sure seems that Nature and Science ended up being a part of a Hwang/Sooam PR effort.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? Is it a good thing for the science media to shine the light on what is going on now with Hwang even when they know it will be as part of a PR effort?
Bottom line, should the journals have gone to invited event at Sooam & written about Hwang? I’ll let you be the judge by taking the poll above.
Note that this piece has some minor edits since the original draft for clarity and accuracy based on new info.