Making matters of fraud: Sociomaterial technology in the case of Hwang and Schatten

History of Science 58 (4):393-416 (2020)
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This paper revisits the “Hwang case,” which shook Korean society and the world of stem cell research in 2005 with the fraudulent claim of creating patient-specific embryonic stem cells. My goal is to overcome a human-centered, Korea-oriented narrative, by illustrating how materials can have an integral role in the construction and judgment of fraud. To this end, I pay attention to Woo Suk Hwang’s lab at Seoul National University as a whole, including human and nonhuman agents, that functioned as what I call sociomaterial technology, and Gerald P. Schatten at the University of Pittsburgh, Hwang’s collaborator, who played a crucial role in demonstrating the potency of this technology to the members of the scientific community. By recasting the whole event as the “case of Hwang and Schatten,” I argue that fraud is, like all knowledge claims, a sociotechnical construct, and that matters of fraud are locally judged. Fraud leaves its mark on materials, but I show that material evidence alone never tells the whole story and instead can be used to limit the range of responsibility.

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