One casualty of Hwang’s fall from grace is the reputation of the journal Science which published his work with great fanfare on May 19. According to a report in the New York Times, the mood in its editorial offices has sunk “from elation to distress and exhaustion”. Although Science, like many other journals, has had to deal with fraud before, this “has been unlike anything else,” according to its executive editor, Monica Bradford.
The problem is, says Ms Bradford, that reviewers assume that the data are real and only pose queries about whether these can support the conclusions. The paper by Hwang and his 24 co-authors was assessed by three reviewers and accepted in two months. The average time from submission to acceptance is three months.
Stem cell scientists and ethicists everywhere are watching events unfold with “a kind of collective mesmerised despair”, bioethicist Laurie Zoloth told the Times. “What we do not understand is how one person could have hoaxed all 24 of the collaborators on the papers — all of whom seemed eager to claim the work as ‘our’ work at the time,” Dr. Zoloth said. “Did we see only what we yearned to see?”
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