[OUTLOOK]Scandal can bring positive changes

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[OUTLOOK]Scandal can bring positive changes

Lately I have read two new books on the scandal surrounding embattled Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk: “A country of Hwang Woo-suk,” and “Entrapped Hwang Woo-suk.”
The authors of the books are both former journalists, one much younger than the other, and their views are totally different.
The author of “A country of Hwang Woo-suk” criticizes Dr. Hwang severely, while the other writer claims the scientist was a victim of the incident.
A fraud case by Dr. Hwang or a conspiracy theory against him. These are the opposite angles.
During the early stages of the scandal, many people took a neutral stance. They wanted to wait and see who was telling the truth. However, as the articles turned out to be fabricated, the majority of the people believed the scandal was a fraud planned by Dr. Hwang ― that is, he deceived the whole world using his close relations with the media, politicians and bureaucrats.
But later, as rumors swirled that Dr. Hwang did not know his stem cells had been switched, a conspiracy theory followed, which argued that Dr. Gerald Schatten and some other Korean doctors entrapped Dr. Hwang in a bid to file for their own patents.
As time goes, the “fraud versus conspiracy” fight simmers even more. So far, Dr. Hwang woo-suk and Roh Sung-il have held several press conferences respectively and the government and Seoul National University have been investigating the case. Prosecutors also have been conducting investigations.
Although five months have passed, however, the scandal has gone nowhere from its early stage. Supporters of Dr. Hwang demonstrate, claiming he was falsely charged with fabrication.
The Korean Broadcasting Company refused to broadcast an in-depth documentary program on Mr. Hwang and his stem cell research. The TV report suggested that Dr. Schatten had fooled Mr. Hwang.
The problem is that people with a neutral stance are becoming cynical. In particular, educated people are turning away from this issue. It seems they don’t want to be involved in this any more.
“I am fed up with the scandal over Mr. Hwang and his research. I don’t even want to talk about it. The articles were fabricated. That was it,” said a biotechnology professor at Seoul National University.
The controversy is ever so exhausting, mainly because important facts about this scandal are not yet known.
When did Dr. Hwang know that the stem cells had been switched? Who switched the stem cells? How much was Dr. Schatten involved? Did any other researchers do anything wrong? The prosecution should answer these questions.
An investigation team of 50 or so agents, including seven elite prosecutors, has been investigating this case for more than three months. They must have done almost all the work they need to do.
When the results of the investigation are released, they can cause even more serious conflicts. We are not sure whether or not all the suspicions will be cleared. But in the long-term, unproductive discussions will surely disappear. Many people will have a better understanding of this case and perhaps will come back to the neutral area.
After this incident, the intellectuals ― including scientists ― can forget their cynicism and bring an end to the controversy. They can focus their efforts on creating a new basis for science and technology. That is the right path to take to solve the problems.
“After this scandal is cleared, Dr. Hwang is likely to go abroad,” a source close to Mr. Hwang said the other day. He meant that Dr. Hwang wanted to stay abroad for a while and concentrate on his research.
But leaving the country is not a solution for everything. We should end these time-wasting fights and mend the problems in society that were revealed in this incident. We need to discuss what relations should be made between society, politics, the media and science. We also need to find new ways to bring our biotechnology back to the right track.
If we take a look into the history of science, we can see that errors and coincidences often offer chances, according to how we responded to them.

* The writer is the investigative editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyu-youn
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