Hwang Charged with Fraud
Hwang Charged with Fraud
I thought, oh my gosh, there’s a lot of news today, and then I saw that they were mostly the same story. South Korean prosecutors have charged Hwang Woo-suk with fraud, embezzlement and bioethics law violations. The bioethics violations have to do with procurement of eggs, while fraud and embezzlement are related to misuse of state funds. According a Reuters story, a senior prosecutor said that Hwang was the “mastermind” of a scheme to fake human cloning. The financial charges have a maximum penalty of ten years in jail, while the bioethics charges are a three year penalty. An AP story (today I went to the Houston Chronicle for my AP hit) reports that there is a possible sentence of life in prison—the other stories I looked at did not confirm this. No trial date has been set. The AP story says that the fraud charges arise from use of funds after Hwang knew that he had not successfully cloned a human. The prosecutors decided not to file any charges arising from the fabrication of the data itself, as there is no precedent for that as a criminal act.
Prosecutors also charged other members of the research team for fraud and/or the bioethics violation. The Korea Times reports that the obstetrician who obtained the eggs from the women was charged with bioethics violations, and that researcher Kim Sun-jong was charged with destroying evidence. Kim is the scientist who lied to Hwang about the patient specific stem cells.
The LA Times reports that supporters of Hwang, who has been in seclusion in a Buddhist monastery, have raised $65 million dollars for Hwang to continue his research. His lawyers have not said whether he will accept the money, but he does intend to fight the charges.
Ok, now I’m pulling out the liberal arts education and thinking about this in terms of an Aristotelian tragedy. Often the word “tragedy” is used about a victim, which is not at all the classic Greek sense of the word tragedy. In Greek tragedy, the tragic hero was the person whose pride (the closest translation of hubris—it’s really almost an overwhelming sense of one’s own rightness) brought about his or her downfall. The tragic hero had to have an elevated stature for the fall to be truly tragic. And that fits Hwang to a T. I think that one of the reasons this story has so captivated people is not only the stem cell angle—which of course added glam—but because it is an example of the kind of tragedy that the Greeks used to stage to bring about audience catharsis. We don’t see real, high tragedy often in our worlds—if it were frequent, it would not have a cathartic effect—and it is as fascinating and important to us as it was to the ancient Greeks. The Hwang story transcends the common sordid scandals involving sex because it is about intellectual greatness being toppled. Euripides would have his pen out.