Lenient punishments help spur trend of plagiarism

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Lenient punishments help spur trend of plagiarism

In November 2000, Yonsei University Medical School Prof. Lee Hyun-chul submitted a paper to the science journal Nature containing the result of his experiment.

The paper claimed he had developed a type of artificial insulin that functioned like natural insulin.

However, a researcher on the professor’s team who was dismissed in April 2008 raised suspicion that the paper was fabricated, and Yonsei investigated the suspicion.

In February 2009, the disciplinary committee of the Seoul-based school handed him a two-month suspension as punishment for the wrongdoing, and Nature withdrew the paper in question in April 2009 at the request of the professor.

There was no additional punitive action on the school’s part, however, and the professor has continued teaching at the same school.

Local universities are not taking thorough enough measures with plagiarism or fabrication cases involving their faculty and have been accused of making plagiarism a more rampant problem in Korea, according to sources that spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo.

Since the high-profile stem cell research by Seoul National University Prof. Hwang Woo-suk in 2005 was found to have been fabricated, suspicion has emerged over dozens of other similar cases involving professors at Korean universities.
In most of the cases, the schools handed out meager punishments to their staff suspected of plagiarizing their research after they tried to divert public attention with foot-dragging investigations.

In fact, Seoul National University Prof. Kang Soo-kyung, who was recently embroiled in suspicion over the fabrication of a paper on stem cell research, came before SNU’s disciplinary committee in 2010 after suspicion emerged that she used manipulated photos in a paper.

SNU accepted her explanation that it was only a simple mistake and only issued a warning without additional punitive action. Some believe stronger action might have prevented the recent controversy.

“In most cases, local universities are trying to cover up plagiarism controversy unless the media chases after it,” said Hwang Eun-seong, the ethics committee head of the Korean Council of Science Editors.

“About the case of Kang Soo-kyung as well, the school [SNU] only embarked on the investigation after the public demanded it investigate the case thoroughly,” Hwang said.

These soft approaches by local colleges draw a stark contrast to how U.S. universities deal with them, according to observers.

Some observers say a tendency at local universities to prioritize how many papers researchers are producing rather than the ethical aspects in the process is making things worse.

By Ha Sun-young [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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