2006

Happy New Year Everyone!

What am I doing tonight? Big fat nothing. But I am comfy and happy tonight doing nothing. Maybe I'll open a bottle of wine and grab a good book…

Korean Stem Cell Research: Act II

Looks like act II of an ugly drama has started. Now professor Hwang is being called a lier after some confessions were made by co-authors of the landmark Science paper.

From what I can tell, the confessions are not evidences of wrong doings but rather admissions that they added their names to the paper to share the limelight without the due dilligence required of co-authors. Also, the Korean media is being really sloppy and reporting shaky conclusions.

They should just wait for the scientific community to prove or disprove instead of perpetuating rumors and questionable confessions.

Update:

While I am still waiting for the final report from Seoul University, I've found an interview transcript which made the most sense to me. Unfortunately, the transcript is in Korean. In case you know Korean, here are the links:

Page 1, Page 2.

Update #2:

The interview mentioned above was pulled due to pressures from fellow scientists who got upset by some comments made during the interview. sigh What can I say except to say that they know not what they do.

Update #3:

Final investigation report from Seoul University was released today. Looks pretty bad. As to why Science published without independent verifications and why co-authors added their name to paper without verifying the contents of the paper, there are obviously some holes that need to be plugged. The media also played a major role in making of the fiasco.

Killing Files

Continuing with a series of posts which I now call Killing Field posts, I want to think out loud about files. To be more clear, I am talking about files as seen by users, not programmers.

To casual computer users, a file is a save. I think this is because, in absense of prior understanding, past experience becomes the seed of understanding. Modern UI requires users to save after they created or changed something. So a file is a save to them, a repeatable experience.

As an experience, I think when, where, and how take precendence over what. When did I save that? Where and how did I save? The reason I put where and how together is because they are closely related in today's UI: where is a place and how is navigation (how you got there). Why affects everything, but I am not sure if it's important to users other than for organizing where.

The question I am struggling with is: if they didn't have to save, what would a file be?

Killing Applications

While I am resetting my thoughts on UI design, I am wondering what use people have for applications as a metaphor. As a bundle of code implementing useful features, they matter but should users know about them or can they just work with documents? Where would Microsft Office monopoly be if applications disappeared from the users view?

What if we killed the notion of Word, as an application, and replaced it with an assortment of blank papers, each designed for specific tasks like report, invoice, resume, or letter of resignation? So, instead of launching Word then selecting a template, user simply navigate to a page listing different types of documents and selects one.

It's the same with email and IM. navigate to the email or IM page to send/receive emails or start an IM session. Notifications of newly arrived email or IM request can be done with blinking icons on the toobar.

Too wild? Hmm.

Killing the Desktop

When I observe how my wife and son uses the family computer, I can't help noticing how little use they have for the desktop. They look bewildered when I open the Windows Explorer.

To them, file open or file save dialog is where the files go. My Documents? It's just an icon they never touch. The web is the little blue icon on the desktop that looks like a letter e. Email is another icon next to it. IM is the little person icon on the bottom right. Word is a W icon on the desktop. They don't even ask why only one click is needed for icons on the bottom right and double-click is needed for icons on the desktop. It just is.

Software my wife uses are (in the order of usage):

  1. Internet Explorer (which they call Web)
  2. MSN Messenger (for chatting with friends)
  3. Outlook
  4. Word

Software my son uses are very similar:

  1. Internet Explorer
  2. Word (for homework)
  3. Outlook
  4. Games

Hmm. While I can see some new approaches to UI here that could be relevant to casual computer users, I am also sadden by the waste of it all.

Korean Stem Cell Research: Science, Journalism, and Humanity

I've been monitoring the ongoing controversy over ethics violation by Korean stem cell research pioneer Hwang Woo-suk. My conclusion is that Professor Hwang did not have an ethics lapse. I'll explain why and also highlight what I see as journalistic terrorism through omission as well as outright lying.

These are the details I put together from reading Korean newspapers:

  1. Eggs used by professor Hwang's research team came from doners through a medical clinic. Professor Hwang was not in a position to know who the donors were. All he knew was that eggs were being donated by volunteers. Without informing professor Hwang, the clinic paid each donor about $1500, supposedly to make up for expenses and time lost. Since the clinic had 40% stake in the stem cell patents filed by Professor Hwang, I suspect their motives were not entirely clean.
  2. When egg shortage was severely impacting the progess of stem cell research, two female assistants in professor Hwang's research team volunteered their eggs. Professor Hwang refused and had to refuse again when they volunteered again later. Two assistance then donated their eggs secretly and paid for the expenses out of their own pocket.
  3. The public controversy started when someone posing as whistleblower contacted production directors of a Korean investigative news program called PD Soo-chup (soo-chup means notebook in Korean) which is not unlike 60 Minutes in the US. The supposed whistleblower claimed that professor Hwang's research was based on fabricated lab results. By this time, professor Hwang was a national hero.
  4. PD Soo-chup reporters then started a visciuos campaign of investigative journalism. They:
    • falsely represented themselves as stem-cell documentary producers.
    • falsely claimed that professor is being investigated and his arrest was imminent.
    • threatened former research assistants with the same fate unless they confessed.
    • secretly taped interviews without permission.
  5. During their investigation, secret egg donation by two research assistance was revealed and rumors started flowing. Some of interviewed professor Hwang's research assistants, now working under professor Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh who participated in the research, informed professor Schatten. Professor Schatten eventually left the project.
  6. Professor Hwang also became aware of the secret egg donations by two of his assistants. When confronted, the two assistants admitted what they did. But because one of the assistants asked for secrecy out of privacy concerns, he decided not to go public at the time. See my comment below on this.
  7. PD Soo-chup then obtained DNA samples from both professor Hwang's team as well as some patients. When their tests came back inconclusive, apparently due to testing mistakes, they present the results as a proof that professor Hwang's research was faked. When PD Soo-chup aired their first report, netizens forced advertisers to pull their ads.
  8. Later when YTN, another Korean news progam, unveiled details about PD Soo-chup's activities, the program's network, MBC, publicly admitted the mistakes and suspended PD Soo-chup reporters. The president of the network is now expected to step down to prevent being forced to shutdown the network.
  9. Now backfires and echos are surfacing. One former research assistant, accused of being the whistleblower, had to quit his job at a hospital. Another former research assistant, now working in the US, is hiding and hasn't been heard from for a week. More questions about some identical photos in the article submitted by professor Hwang to Science surfaced. Science is saying it was an editorial mistake. Some are saying photos were photoshopped. Oy.
  10. On the upside, egg donations by Korean women have gone up, often with their husband's approval. Apparently, donating egg has now become an act of patriotism.

Meanwhile, news medias abroad have been spreading the news with critical omissions. Wired, for example, wrote:

South Korean stem-cell pioneer Hwang Woo-suk last week admitted he knew about ethically dubious payments to women who worked in his lab for eggs he used in his research, and later lied about it.

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p dir=”ltr”>Nowhere does it say he learned of both the dubious payments and egg donations by assistants after it happened. And if omission is equivalent to lying, then aren't most journalists liers as well?

I think professor Hwang regrets the decision he made in #6. In Korea, egg donation by an unmarried woman is seen as the same as having had an abortion, a taboo that could affect a person's life severely. It's rather ironic since Korea is a country where abortion is usually an economic decision and sometimes even a matter of convenience.

Frankly, I think professor Hwang made the right decision because I think science without humanity is meaningless. Also, I think mixing patriotism with science is also dangerous.