To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I've been keeping up with the stem cell scandal in South Korea. Here is an article about it. There are those who suggest that the solution to keeping this sort of thing from happening is to train young scientists in ethics.

I doubt that you can train ethics into a person. You can explain exactly what falsification consists of, so that a person doesn't falsify by mistake, thinking that what he is doing is OK. I have found crumpled pieces of paper in the garbage, that turned out to be someone's original observations (sample weights, for instance) that were copied over because the papers were torn or had solvent spilled on them, and had to explain that that is raw data and you never discard it. If the technician truly doesn't know that and never repeats the error, that's one thing. If the technician has done it before and excuses himself by saying that he thought no one would know, that's something else again. My mom says character is what you do when no one is looking, and I think she's right.

The cruelest thing in the stem cell case is this:

"When I had a spinal injury 21 years ago, it was a death sentence that I couldn't walk again," said Jeong, 50, head of the Korea Spinal Cord Injury Association.

But, with talk of stem cells, "I began to hold a string of hope. I want to keep holding that string of hope," he said.

It is so wrong to lie to people like that. I don't know how people who lie like that can live with themselves. I wonder if the lies start out small, and are rationalized because they could become true with enough support for the research, and eventually take on a life of their own. It's why it is so important to be truthful even in small things that don't seem to matter. That internal commitment to the truth has to be there. It has to be guarded, even when the truth is disappointing, or embarrassing, or obstructive to what we want to do. I just don't think you can train that into a person.

No comments: