Science is said to be a search for truth, and that search can sometimes exact a heavy personal price from individuals who take it seriously. Especially at risk are junior scientists who dare to confront revered elders.
In 2010, we commented on the heroes in the furor that unmasked the deceptions of the once-admired Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser, whose upright actions did not benefit their academic careers. Now the whistleblower in a much bigger scandal, which rocked South Korea and the scientific world in 2005 and 2006, has detailed the difficulties he suffered after exposing the massive fraud perpetrated by the erstwhile leading stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang.
Young-Joon Ryu, who was a researcher in Hwang's lab early in the decade, wrote the first draft of the Science paper that made a splash in February 2004. He spent 6 months in hiding with his family to escape the wrath of supporters of Hwang, who was considered a national hero, Nature reports. Ryu was out of work for more than a year.
Once the reality of the Hwang's falsehoods sunk in, the fall of a revered (apparent) scientific pioneer deeply shook Korean scientists around the world, upended the field of stem cell research, and led many to reconsider the ethical foundations of their work. As we reported at the time, a group of Korean researchers working in the United States organized their own international conference on doing science ethically.
The experience aroused a similar interest in Ryu, who in 2011 earned a Ph.D. in bioethics and is now working on another Ph.D., in life sciences. Despite his travails, he neither regrets his actions nor has lost "his faith in science," Nature reports.
Hwang has meanwhile "quietly rebuilt his scientific career," according to our colleagues at Science. But as Hwang harbors hopes of a return to prominence, it is Ryu who deserves the gratitude and respect of the scientific community.