Seoul National University and professor Kang Soo-kyung have come under fire for downplaying instances of academic dishonesty two years ago, which may have led to another fabrication in an international journal.
According to the Hankook Ilbo newspaper and university insiders, Kang had been called into a school fact-finding ethics committee in 2010 for alleged data fabrication in her paper for the International Journal of Cancer.
The committee then found much of the claim to be true. However, they issued only a verbal warning to Kang after she explained that the errors were simple mistakes.
Two years later on May 19, another internationally renowned journal, Antioxidant & Redox Signaling, announced that four stem cell papers written by Kang were retracted after signs of fabrications were belatedly detected. A whistleblower reportedly sent a 70 page-document to editors of 10 journals where Kang sent her findings and raised suspicions over the authenticity of the data. Two other journals, “Brain” and “Aging Cell,” are also in the verification process regarding the allegation.
Kang has admitted to a “lack of adequate oversight” and sought the retraction of two of the papers, while insisting on redoing experiments to improve the data quality of the other two, but the journal declined.
Kang had suggested that she would redo the examination of the procedures to the school’s internal committee, but the members decided to verify it themselves. The evaluation is expected to take weeks.
If the errors are proven to be intentional, Kang and Korean stem cell research as a whole are expected to face international scrutiny. It would also bring up painful memories of the case of Hwang Woo-suk, then a professor of SNU, who was revealed to have fabricated his embryonic stem cell cloning papers in 2005.
After Hwang’s scandal, domestic stem cell research, which once outperformed other countries, was halted or slowed, only to catch up just recently.
The Korean Society for Stem Cell Research said it has also started verifying the data. The organization said Kang will be excluded from state or large projects allocated by academia if found guilty.
“Had the SNU insiders been stern about Kang’s so-called mistakes at the first place, Kang may have paid more attention to her sequels. She wouldn’t have put the school and the academia in trouble,” a school insider said. “It seems that the school was keener on glossing up the matter than setting the records straight,” he added.
Some field insiders say the extreme competition and social demand for tangible performance to scientists have driven her imprudence or alleged fraud.
“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,” a scholar wrote on the website of Pohang University of Science and Technology wrote on the school’s Biological Research Information Center.
The SNU spokesman and Kang did not comment on the issue,
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org