Sunday, January 22, 2006

SNU president on the "painful lesson" of Dr. Hwang

Bazaar in 11 days!

Thought I'd pass this along. I saw it on the Seoul National University website (English version). It's the public apology by SNU's president, Chung Un-chan, following the conclusion of the investigation into Dr. Hwang Woo-seok's work:

Fellow Koreans,

Just yesterday the Seoul National University Investigation Committee submitted its Final Report on Professor Woo Suk Hwang's Research Allegations. The Final Report concludes that the research articles published in 2004 and 2005 in the journal Science were both fabricated. It is with a very heavy heart that I stand before you today to express my regrets that Professor Hwang's team at our university carried out such grave misconducts.

As the President of Seoul National University, I feel I owe the Korean people a deep apology for the public confusion and controversy caused by Professor Hwang's research team. The findings of the Investigation Committee make it clear that Professor Hwang's grievous misconduct has dishonored scientific communities in Korea and abroad. I am concerned that his research team has placed a heavy burden on Korean scientists who have been hard at work in their respective research fields. They are likely to come under much greater scrutiny in the future by the global scientific community. But most of all I would like to apologize to the patients whose hopes were raised by stem cell research and whose trust has been betrayed by the recent events.

The falsification of research results is nothing less than a crime in an academic community whose purpose is the pursuit of truth. We need to acknowledge, however, that the responsibility for the events surrounding Professor Hwang's misconduct must be shared.

I speak of the responsibility for exaggerating the contributions of embryonic stem cell research for the purposes of Korean national interest. I speak of the responsibility for evading issues of bioethics in the naming of finding cures for incurable diseases. And I speak of our obsession with producing results without recollecting that the ends do not justify the means.

Honesty and integrity are the fundamentals of science. There can be no science deserving of that name without honesty and integrity. We need to be wary of exaggerated hopes in scientific achievement. No single scientific achievement will single-handedly revive the national economy or cure all illnesses. During the last two years, we ignored this simple truth and wasted valuable resources. It is time now to reflect seriously on the true purpose of scholarship. And it is time for those who engaged in misconduct to take responsibility.

I firmly believe, however, that we must not simply take the recent events as a one-time tragedy. We must make this an opportunity for the biological sciences in Korea to mature and leap forward. One thing we have gained from these events is the experience of locating and correcting our own mistakes. We would not be here today without the courageous intervention of young scientists who braved the furor of the national press in order to challenge the allegations of Professor Hwang. Seoul National University's Investigation Committee amply proved its dedication to, and its ability to uncover, the truth. I thus remain hopeful that the Korean scientific community will not be permanently damaged by these events but will move forward.

Seoul National University, too, will move forward. During the last sixty years, Seoul National University has continued to contribute to Korean society through the pursuit of true scholarship. It will not stop doing so. I will do my utmost to ensure that Seoul National University will continue to serve as a center of learning and truth.

However, we will not forget this painful lesson. I will request the Disciplinary Committee at Seoul National University to take strict action upon all researchers involved in this case. I will reform research policies and establish a Research Ethics Committee in order to ensure that similar fabrications will not happen in the future.

As the President of Seoul National University, I apologize once again for the concerns caused by Professor Hwang's research team. And I earnestly ask you to continue to place trust in our institution so that we can move forward to correct our mistakes and learn from them for a better future. Thank you.

Chung, Un-chan

A quick comment:

I wish I could read this in the original Korean, but one sentence above strikes me as off: They [i.e., Korean scientists] are likely to come under much greater scrutiny in the future by the global scientific community.


This could be a translation problem. I don't know. In my opinion, scrutiny is never a bad thing. Scientists-- in theory, at least-- pursue truth in an atmosphere of independent verification and mutual constructive critique. Scrutiny isn't bad; outright mistrust is the real problem Korean scientists face.

I liked the president's statement, overall. Plenty of apologies, numerous proposals on how to reform, and very clearly not letting Hwang & Co. off the hook for besmirching the university's (and country's) reputation. A subtle hint, too, that this sort of problem is something we all have to watch out for, which I think is true. Korea has no monopoly on unethical behavior.

By the way, has anyone answered the question of why a veterinarian was so involved in human cloning?


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