A critical lack of conscienceA professor at Seoul National University was arrested for allegedly taking bribes from Reckitt Benckiser Korea in return for manipulating a report in favor of the company’s Oxy humidifier sterilizers. He was charged with multiple crimes including fraud and evidence tampering.
The prosecution claims that the professor, surnamed Cho, had dropped the results, which showed 13 out of 15 baby mice had died in their mother’s womb when the mother rat inhaled Oxy humidifier sterilizer in a safety test of the Oxy product. If this claim proves true, it is shocking that a scientist was instrumental in putting public health at risk, betraying his conscience as a scientist.
Oxy Reckitt Benckiser had assigned SNU and Hoseo University professors for scientific investigation after the Korean Health Authority linked sterilizers used in humidifiers to mysterious deaths and the cause of lung illnesses in August 2011. The company responded to the accusation, which was based on university reports, by claiming that the causal relation between lung damage and humidifier sterilizers was unclear.
The scientific report is crucial in uncovering the truth behind the manufacturing and sale of deadly sterilizers that caused 143 deaths. If the test results were fabricated in exchange for money, the scientist is not qualified to research or lecture. The people responsible for the manipulation of the test results should be removed forever from universities and academic posts for causing irreversible losses to the victims’ families.
The case may renew public suspicion and distrust regarding scientific and technology research. Korean scientists would lose credibility if they merely serve to deliver results that meet corporate interests. SNU must recognize the gravity of the incident and raise its ethical standards for researchers. People won’t be able to trust the safety and reliability of a product if they question the test results conducted by universities and research institutions.
Scientific work that does not gain faith from the public does not have any social value. The universities must fully cooperate in uncovering the truth, punish the people accountable and come up with measures to ensure such breaches in trust do not repeat themselves.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 31