Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Other Side of the Coin in the Golden Rice Scandal

Firstly, a short summarized update of progress in this fomenting scandal:

  • The experiment violated Chinese laws and regulations. China requires all gene-related human research approved by provincial-level Department of Agriculture. In this case, Department of Agriculture of Hunan Province flatly denied it ever received an application for the experiment, nor did they approve any other experiment in its nature.

  • The experiment failed to follow protocols and ethic standards recognized by the scientific community. Children were required to participate a state government sponsored subsidized meal plan. New Capital Daily located several kids and their parents and guardians, none had ever been told it was an experiment. Furthermore, none had ever heard the word 'gene' or 'Golden Rice'. Simply put, subjects were not informed.

      other miscellaneous issues

    • The Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Department of Agriculture of Zhejiang Province deliberately ordered abortion of the experiment in question after tipped by the Greenpeace, but the experiment was carried on in remote Hunan Province.

    • The Ministry of Agriculture specifically banned import of Golden Rice for this experiment, but it was smuggled in China by Tufts University.

    • The US Embassy in Beijing recommended US institutions not to conduct human experiment in remote poverty areas in China, out of concerns that subjects's interests could not be effectively protected. The recommendation was triggered by an incident where Harvard University researchers were found to use local communist officials to force uninformed farms into a human experiment. The memo was passed to the NIH, which in turn forwarded to all institutions which conduct such research in China. Tufts experiment in Hengyang was a defiant without any argument on the basis of its decision to go against the recommendation.

    • The second and fourth authors flatly denied ever heard of the 2012 paper, and never signed the consent form for its publication.

    • Dr. Tang wrongly cited an approval from the IRB of the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Science on this experiment, while the approval had already expired before the experiment in Hunan even started. This ethics review was mandated because Dr. Tang's role in the experiment was connected to her appointment at the Zhejiang institution.

Now, the other side of the coin may present a most miserable researcher under the sun, who voluntarily did all labors for work of other people without money nor accreditation, and wronged for mistake committed by those who she had helped but had to keep it a secret. That person would be Dr. Guangwen Tang, if we give her all the benefit of doubt. That is all the benefits of doubt, whatsoever.

Admittedly, Tang committed serious academic misconducts. Based on the findings of official investigations conducted by the Hengyang municipal government, Department of Agriculture of Hunan Province, the Chinese CDC and the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Science, as well as interviews conducted by newspapers including the People's Daily and the New Capital Daily, there is simply no plausible explanation can be derived. Dr. Tang can only be on the wrong side, one way or another.

Having said that, there is a chance that Dr. Tang's crime might not be as horrifying as it originally appeared:

  • According to the third author Mr. Yin of the Chinese CDC, the Hengyang experiment was headed by Yin, funded by Yin's grant from the Chinese NSF, organized, executed and monitored throughout the duration by Hunan CDC. Therefore technically Tang was not in charge of anything.

  • According to the third author, the experiment funded by the Chinese NSF was designed by Tang, the material was provided by Tang, the serum were read by Tang, and data was analyzed with Tang's help. In fact, Tang completed the entire Chinese project with no pay and no credit.

  • According to the fourth author, Ms. Wang, Wang as well as other Chinese researchers received financial support from the Tang team. Wang stated she did not have any role in Tang's experiment, not even show up in Hengyang, but still received all the benefits.

Then, the million dollar question only Tang knows the answer: why did she do that? Was that her malpractice insurance premium?

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