[VIEWPOINT]Honest writing brings true results

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[VIEWPOINT]Honest writing brings true results

The hearing system was introduced in the National Assembly about two decades ago.
Those who aspire to become high-ranking officials have to stand naked in front of the citizens like a fish in a fish bowl without a plant to hide behind. They have to prove the change of their resident registry is not illegal and answer how they accumulated wealth and whether they have been faithfully paying taxes.
From the early years in public life, those who want to hold high office must have had dilemmas in whether or not it was okay to receive money from others, enjoy a free trip or purchase a house or land.
The more they struggle with such dilemmas, the cleaner the public officials will become.
The destiny of scholars is similar. It is so tempting for a scholar to quote the ideas of others without giving them credit.
Lately, scholars have often been appointed to public positions. Because the scholars have followed a different path than the career civil servants, they should be grilled with a different set of questions.
If a career official should be asked how he has accumulated his fortune, a candidate with an academic background should be asked whether he has ever plagiarized papers or publications.
Why should we be strict on plagiarism? Sacred books such as the Bible have no citations, because there is no need to provide grounds for what the Creator has said.
However, humans are imperfect, and in order to bolster a theory, he or she may want to borrow ideas from others.
In those cases, one should give credit to the original author. A paper is only as reliable as the authority of its ideas. For a scientific paper, being published in a prestigious journal is very important but being cited frequently by such a journal gives it even more authority.
Failing to give credit properly can be compared to the theft of a book. The old saying that a book thief is not a thief has justified the social atmosphere generous to plagiarism.
However, when a tangible object is stolen, you can undo the damage by retrieving it. That's not the case for an intellectual property.
Intellectual property contains the personality and philosophy of the author. For example, when an expert in a specific field borrows the ideas of a young scholar without crediting him properly, the young scholar often ends up in an awkward situation when he claims that he is the original author.
In that sense, a book thief is not just any pilferer but a serious criminal. When plagiarism is widespread, no one wants to do the hard work needed for original, creative ideas and the culture is degenerated by a flood of cheap, fake publications.
In the United States, even a court ruling gives clear credit. It makes the ruling more convincing. Just as the frequency of the citations of a prestigious journal is important for a scientific paper, legal scholars earn respect and authority when their papers are cited on court decisions. They can write better when they work hard to write papers worthy of citation, and it will, in turn, elevate the level of court decisions.
It has been confirmed that stem cells allegedly cultured by Dr. Hwang Woo-suk did not exist. If the researcher could have gotten time amid the fuss and cultured the stem cells, could the researcher be forgiven for his lies?
If a scholar publishes a quality paper by plagiarizing other people's work and giving no respect to the rules of citation, can his unethical conduct be forgiven? Never.
Just as the hearing procedure plays the role of a watchdog for public officials, the watchdog in academia is the establishment of strict guidelines on plagiarism and rules of citation.
The tendency to attach importance only to the results rather than the causes is a shadowy product of the rapid development in the 1970s and 80s. As long as society values results above everything else, we might see another stem-cell case again.
Honest writing is not just a virtue demanded of scholars. For Korea to join the leaders of the knowledge-based economy, the citizens need to learn how to write honestly.
Even if we fail to reach the goal, we still should take the right path.

* The writer is a lawyer and a professor of law at Yonsei University. Translated by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Nam Hyung-doo

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