Nature got lucky, and so did I

I found out today that I got lucky. Human cloning has always received the lion's share of headlines, but I've always been more fascinated by the cloning of the lions ? animal cloning, in particular the quirky but earnest gang that would like to clone your pet for royal sums. So I might have felt vindicated by today's news ? which I reported on linkurl:here;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/22933/ ? that while Woo-Suk Hwang's claims on human cloning were based on fraud, his cloning of lin

By | January 10, 2006

I found out today that I got lucky. Human cloning has always received the lion's share of headlines, but I've always been more fascinated by the cloning of the lions ? animal cloning, in particular the quirky but earnest gang that would like to clone your pet for royal sums. So I might have felt vindicated by today's news ? which I reported on linkurl:here;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/22933/ ? that while Woo-Suk Hwang's claims on human cloning were based on fraud, his cloning of linkurl:Snuppy;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22746/ had been verified. After all, I'd covered Snuppy, but had only mentioned the human cloning papers in a year-end round-up story after serious questions had already been raised about linkurl:the work;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15895/. Similarly, __Nature__, which published the original report on Snuppy, might be feeling like kings of the jungle, while __Science__, which published the human cloning studies, might be feeling like it's in the doghouse. That's the unspoken thread of a story on the subject in linkurl:today's New York Times;http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/10/science/10clone.html . There's almost a bit of anger in the story, a sort of pile-on of __Science__ for betraying reporters. Nicholas Wade includes an unattributed comment that __Cell__ is 'a biology journal known for its rigor.' The suggestion ? made explicit later (see quote below), is that __Nature__ and __Science__ aren't known for their rigor. 'It sounds as though their processes were rather sloppy,' Wade allows Benjamin Lewin, the founder and former editor of __Cell__, to tell the world: 'At a minimum, __Science__ should have been more careful and should never have reached the stage of publishing a paper with identical photos,' he said, referring to the fact that some photos of cell colonies in Hwang's 2005 article were duplicates of one another. Lewin said that a journal editor needed to develop an intimate knowledge of his reviewers' strengths and weaknesses, and that '__Nature__ and __Science__ don't have the reputation for rigorous review.' Let's let those who live in glass houses cast the first stone. As prestigious as __Cell__ is, it's not as though the journal ? a bi-weekly, mind you, compared to __Science__ and __Nature__'s weekly publication schedule ? has never had to retract a paper; for a recent example, see a very odd and still mystifying retraction that we reported on linkurl:in September;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22782/ . And the fabrications and semi-substantiated 'facts' that have appeared in the pages of the Times are old hat by now. Here's another way to think about it: __Cell__ didn't publish any of Hwang's papers. Unless a criminal investigation by the South Korean authorities yields the complete submission history of Hwang's work, we may never know whether he approached __Cell__ and was rejected. Even if that's the case, perhaps we're just hearing from someone who stands to gain from putting __Science__ and __Nature__ down. The fact is that __Nature__ just got lucky, as did I. There was as good a chance that Snuppy was a fraud as there was that the human cloning experiments were faked. Neither was independently tested, and the best that can come out of this mess is that independent testing become de rigeur when all journals ? not just __Science__ and __Nature__ ? publish proof of cloning work, as the NHGRI's Elaine Ostrander told me in an interview this morning. The worst that could come of it is a degradation of the mostly gentleman-like and healthy competition among the world's elite science publications.
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