[Outlook]Don’t leave science outThe Ministry of Science and Technology has been shut down and turned into the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, causing unrest and concern.
A worry is swirling that science and technology issues may be put aside because of pending educational matters. Some opposed the closure, saying that there is no reason to shut the doors on a model institution that was well regarded outside the country, including by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
At least, people said, heaving a sigh of relief, a figure from the science and technology field was appointed as the leader of the new ministry. But now he is to be replaced.
Now there is not a single person from the science and technology sector in the cabinet. On top of this, the heads of government-sponsored research centers submitted letters of resignation en masse and many of their posts still remain empty. The atmosphere in the science and technology field is unsettled, to say the least.
Meanwhile, energy worries are giving rise to an economic crisis.
Science and technology can offer fundamental tools to overcome this crisis. Many countries are doing extensive research and investing large sums on the development of new forms of energy and expansion and further development of nuclear and conventional energy, competing fiercely on these projects. These are important issues, but energy is only one of many issues that the science and technology field handles.
The development of science and technology in Korea must not lose its drive because of an insecure domestic climate. Science and technology can produce the best possible results when research is conducted under a long-term plan and when there is massive investment in the field.
If people in the science and technology field lose their motivation or feel insecure while working, they can’t produce good results. We should help them maintain their enthusiasm for their projects by ensuring they are working under secure conditions. In this way, we will be creating new livelihoods for the future.
News recently emerged about the Korean Superconducting Tokamak Reactor project, the first nuclear fusion reactor in Korea. Dubbed “the artificial sun” or “dream energy,” the nuclear fusion reactor was built with cutting-edge technology.
During the past 12 years of its development, there were difficulties at times. But the research was not disrupted, and finally on Sept. 14 last year, a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the groundbreaking device was held. The achievement is the result of a combination of the competence of Korean experts, the devotion of the companies involved and the government’s continuous support.
The reactor is now conducting tests. Weak points, if there are any, must be strengthened and optimum conditions must be produced for the machine to function. But while this is going on, the post of head of the research center, who is to comprehensively lead the entire project, is now empty. The former head was devoted to the project but his resignation letter was accepted. People wonder if this is really necessary, when several months remain in his term, and when important tests are being carried out.
Finding talented and suitable people is vital. Experts who have been accumulating experience and boosting their competence for decades are truly valuable and should be treated accordingly.
In France, science and technology experts from 36 countries are conducting the ITER project to build a mega-sized fusion reactor. This project is to take 20 to 30 years, and Korea is also taking part. According to the International Institute for Management Development, Korea’s competitiveness is fifth or sixth in the world in science and between seventh and 12th in technology. The competence of Korean science and technology experts is recognized around the globe.
The government and society should create the right conditions in Korea for these experts to use their creativity and competence for the country and the future. Even when the administration is replaced, science and technology experts should be able to work with a mid- and long-term vision under a stable administrative system and consistent policy.
I hope that people in the science and technology sector won’t need to feel they are being left out or treated unfairly. We should have the perception that science and technology offers us hope for the future, and we should be proud of our experts. We should encourage youths to dream of studying and working in the field.
Most importantly, the president and other decision makers must take a deep interest in science and technology and recognize their importance.
*The writer is a former deputy prime minister and minister of science and technology. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Woo-sik