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  • Scientists caught in a 'crisis of objectives'


[HYDERABAD] Swiss Nobel laureate Richard Ernst has urged governments and research institutions not to push scientists to produce "glamorous" results that could lead them to do sloppy work or breach research ethics.

Ernst, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1991, made the comments while referring to the recent scandal surrounding results obtained by South Korean researcher Hwang Woo Suk of the Seoul National University (see Stem-cell research must keep its house in order).

Hwang is accused of faking results showing that he had cultivated embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos. He is also accused of violating ethical guidelines by using eggs provided by junior women researchers in his team for the study.

Ernst, who was giving a lecture at the Indian Science Congress on Wednesday (6 January), said scientists are under increasing pressure to do "more research in less time", and develop more consumer products and technologies.

With scientists increasingly having an unlimited amount of faith in what the technology they use can achieve, "there is a loss of the accepted ethical foundations" of research, said Ernst, warning that ethics have recently become "superfluous".

He said that it was insufficient to simply train specialists in science and technology. Ethics and social responsibilities, he explained, must be considered as important as scientific skills, knowledge and understanding.

"To succeed we [scientists and academics] have to run faster everyday… But nobody is asking whether we are running in the right direction," Ernst pointed out. "We are caught in a crisis of identity and crisis of objectives."

Appointing professors with vision and a sense of global responsibility, emphasising the societal context of science in lectures, stimulating inter-disciplinary discussions and organising scientific seminars on the concerns of society regarding research can all help build a greater sense of responsibility and ethics among researchers, he said.

Science, which published Hwang Woo Suk's work in its 19 May 2005 issue, confirmed on Wednesday (4 January) that it would retract the paper.

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