Importnace of science and engineering professions exhibiting the highest levels of integrity and honesty

Members in the science and engineering professions must demonstrate the highest standards of ethics and honesty. Members of these professions have a substantial impact on the public, so adhering to the established code of ethics is vital. This study looks at the case of Hwang Woo-Suk, a South Korean national convicted of misappropriating government research funds and falsifying his papers. While he was a national hero in his country at the time, his later work on embryonic stem cells was loaded with faked data, and he was fired from his position at Seoul National University. The papers that he had published in scientific journals were retracted as a result of the scandals associated with his works. This report finds the actions of Hwang to be against the NSPE ethics code as well as virtue ethics. The report also offers a way in which such cases can be avoided in future.

Key words: engineering, falsification, ethic.

Engineering Ethics


Born in 1953, Hwang is an individual that pioneered one of the greatest misconducts in science history. The scientist headed a research team that published breakthrough papers in stem cell from a Korean laboratory (Van der Heyden, Ven, & Opthof, 2009). The articles were published in Science. However, after it was discovered that they were fabricated, they were removed. As noted by Van der Heyden, Ven, & Opthof (2009), the two papers that were written by a team lead by Hwang concentrated on human therapeutic cloning. The process, also known as SCNT technology, involves a nucleus from the somatic cell of a patient being transferred into an enucleated cell of a donor (Van der Heyden, Ven, & Opthof, 2009). The process minimizes immune rejection in patients after the transplant has been done. Prior to the publication of the papers by Hwang, the process was inefficient and cumbersome, and as such, there were no earlier successful clinical cloning in human beings that had been reported. The two papers by Hwang claimed significant progress in human cloning to the extent that clinical purpose was within reach. However, given that the papers were found fraudulent and fabricated, they violated the basic code of ethics that researchers are supposed to follow.

Prior to publishing the fraudulent papers, Hwang had developed a name for himself, not only in South Korea but also in other countries. He had developed cloning methods for pigs and cows before shifting his focus on human cells (Craine, n.d.). The focus on human cells, however, was filled with fabrications that eventually led to his dismissal from the university and conviction in 2009. After admitting to using eggs donated by his researchers in 2005, it was clear that he had violated ethics code and he had to resign from being the World Stem Cell Hub’s director (Craine, n.d.). When a colleague that was working with him on the project came forward in the same year with information that Hwang’s discoveries were fabricated, the review panel at the university found him responsible for releasing unfounded claims to the public. It was determined that the only verifiable study conducted by Hwang was the one that involved dog cloning. The series of unethical misconduct by Hwang resulted in his firing from the university as well as his conviction of violating bioethical laws and misuse of government funds (Sang-hun, 2009). These violations by Hwang and his team from the laboratory in South Korea can be applied to the NSPE ethics code to a great extent. His actions violated the ethics code as stipulated by NSPE and also the virtue ethics. The section that follows discusses in detail the case of misconduct by Hwang and how it relates to ethical requirements.

Analysis and Discussion

The Case with Respect to NSPE Code

The NSPE ethics code requires engineers to follow certain laid down standards as they discharge their duties. Although Hwang’s case is not purely related to engineering, there are ethical observations related to NSPE code that can be made. Hwang and his team worked in a laboratory, and they had an employer (the university), whom they reported to. There are six fundamental canons that are described by the NSPE code (NSPE, 2007). The actions by Hwang and his team violated all of the six canons.

As stipulated in the first NSPE code, engineers have to hold paramount public’s health, safety, and welfare. This code was violated by Hwang and his team in a number of ways. It is reported that Hwang coercively asked two of his researchers to donate eggs for the purpose of the research. In this case, the health and safety of the researchers were put at risk by the action of Hwang. The members of his team were also at fault because they did not report such malpractice. The code prohibits aiding of unlawful practice. All the members of his team that aided the unethical and unlawful practice of using the donated eggs thus violated the ethics code. The team also failed to hold paramount the welfare of the public by using government funds for fraudulent activities. These funds could have been used for more significant development programs that are important to the Korean public. Therefore, the act of using public funds for fraudulent research practice is against the NSPE Code.

The second NSPE code requires engineers to carry out services only in their area of competence. Although Hwang had masters as well as doctorate degrees in Theriogenology, he had no prior experience in dealing with human cells. As noted before, the practice of cloning human cells had never been successful before, and Hwang entered into a field that no one had been successful. Therefore, it cannot be said that he had competency in the area since no one had been successful in human cell cloning. As noted in the description of the second code, experience in a specific technical field is necessary. Hwang did not have experience, and therefore, his works were just experimental. The problem comes in where he uses cells from his researchers to carry out the experiments. The practice is unlawful, and with no experience, it was against the NSPE code for him to carry out the experiments.

As per the third NSPE code, engineers are required to provide public statements objectively and in a truthful manner. The actions of Hwang violated this code largely through releasing the papers for publication. Hwang gave the public hope that they were close to finding treatment to certain diseases. Through the papers written, the hope of the public was raised. In addition, publishing the papers about breakthroughs in human cell cloning put them in a better position to received increased government funding. However, given that the information published was based on fabricated data, Hwang failed to honor the code requiring the provision of information in a truthful manner. As such, they violated the third NSPE code that required truthfulness in professional reports, testimony or statements (NSPE, 2007).

The fourth ethics code requires engineers to act as faithful trustees or agents to each employer. In this regards, engineers are required to disclose all conflict of interests surrounding the project they are working on. This code was violated by Hwang in that he did not act as faithful trustee for the Seoul National University, which, in this case, is considered the employer. Hwang carried out practices that were against the law. As noted by Baylis (2009), he bought eggs with cash and some of the women did not give informed consent. As such, it reported that the acts of Hwang amounted to egg trafficking. This is certainly against the policies of the university and Hwang did not act in the best interest of the employer (university).

The NSPE fifth and sixth codes require engineers to avoid deceptive acts and to show honor, ethics, responsibility, and adherence to the law. These were also violated by Hwang in his human cell cloning actions. The public, the university, and the women who donated eggs were deceived by Hwang. The action of publishing fraudulent papers was deceitful to both the public and the university. As for the women that donated eggs, they were not informed of the health risks they were putting themselves into. Also, the eggs that were of higher grade were used for research, while those of lower grade were used to treat the women. Therefore, the practices of Hwang were filled with deceitful activities that are against NSPE Code. It is clear that Hwang did not show honor, ethics, responsibility, or adherence to law in his acts.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics, which can also be referred to virtue theory, emphasizes on moral character rather than duties or consequences of an action (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2016). The theory is based on Aristotle’s declaration that a virtuous person is one whose character traits are ideal. According to the theory, when something has a function, its good is seen when the function is performed well (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). In the same way, the good man is the one that performs his function well. Given that the man’s function is to reason, it is important that he reasons well. As such, a person is required to show high moral qualities and behaviors in his actions.

The actions of Hwang are totally against virtue ethics. They lack moral standards expected by the society. As such, it can be said that his actions violated virtue ethics to a great extent. Evidence has shown that the women that donated the eggs did so without giving valid and informed consent. It is morally wrong to use someone’s eggs without them consenting. Some of the patients expected to be treated on their infertility problem but Hwang decided to use the high-quality eggs for research while those of low quality was used for treatment. This was to serve his personal interest, and it is morally wrong. In addition, the fabrication of the data used in the papers deceived the public, and it is deducible that it was an immoral behavior. Therefore, Hwang’s actions were against virtue ethics.

Ethical Skills Overlooked

Hwang overlooked some of the most important ethical skills in his projects at the university. The ethical skills that he ignored include honesty and integrity. Hwang did not demonstrate honesty in his actions. First, he was not honest with the patients he was treating. The patients were not informed of the dangers that the process they were subjecting themselves to. It is deducible that Hwan did not inform them of the dangers in order to increase the number of eggs in his experiment. In the case the women were told of the risks involved, it is probable that fewer eggs would have been donated. Secondly, Hwang was not honest with the members of the public with the publication of the papers. It is expected that any information published by a reputable scientist is based on real facts. However, as it turned out, Hwang used fabricated data in his papers, and the public was lied to by the information published. Hwang also compromised his own integrity as well as that of the university by engaging in unlawful practices. Prior to revelations of the fabrications in his papers, Hwang was a reputable scientist that was widely recognized within and without borders. Through his fraudulent practices with human cell cloning as well as publishing papers based on fabricated information, he compromised his integrity and that of the university. The Seoul National University provided Hwang with the facility he needed, and the government provided the funding. His actions affected the integrity of the university to a great extent. It is probable that funding to the university was affected. The reputation of the university was also tainted as a result of Hwang’s actions.

How to Avoid Such Event in Future

Such event can be avoided in future through setting up proper mechanisms through which research papers are reviewed. The number of professionals reviewing papers has to be increased to avoiding cases where invalid papers are published. As for the laboratory malpractices, training on ethical conduct is critical. All members of a project team have to be trained on the required ethical conduct. They have to understand the implications of engaging in unethical practices. Therefore, in every research laboratory, members have to be aware of what is required of them with respect to the ethical code of conduct. In addition, proper reporting channels for unethical practices have to be set up.


This report has determined that Hwang engaged in practices that are against the NSPE ethics code as well as virtue ethics. It is also clear that his papers were accepted for publication without proper reviewing. As the head of the research team, Hwang used his power to coercively ask his team members as well as women to donate eggs. The eggs of low quality were used for treatment while those of higher quality were reserved for research. These practices of Hwang are against the law as well as ethics code. From the case, it is deducible that mechanisms have to be put in place to avoid such incidences in future. An increase in the number of reviewers and training in ethical conduct could help avoid similar cases in future. In the meantime, the firing and conviction of Hwang can serve as a lesson to others.


Baylis, F. For love or money? The saga of Korean women who provided eggs for embryonic stem cell research. Theor Med Bioeth , 30 (5), 385. (2009).

Craine, A. G. (n.d.). Hwang Woo-Suk. Retrieved September 4, 2017, from Britannica:

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (n.d.). Virtue Ethics. Retrieved September 4, 2017, from IEP:

NSPE. (2007, July ). NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers. Retrieved September 4, 2017, from NSPE:

Sang-hun, C. (2009, October 26). Disgraced Cloning Expert Convicted in South Korea. Retrieved September 4, 2017, from The New York Times:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2016). Virtue Ethics. Retrieved September 4, 2017, from Stanford:

Van der Heyden, M. A., Ven, T. v., & Opthof., T. Fraud and misconduct in science: the stem cell seduction. Netherlands Heart Journal , 17 (1), 25. (2009).

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