Ethical Modernization: Research Misconduct and Research Ethics Reforms in Korea Following the Hwang Affair

Abstract

The Hwang affair, a dramatic and far reaching instance of scientific fraud, shocked the world. This collective national failure prompted various organizations in Korea, including universities, regulatory agencies, and research associations, to engage in self-criticism and research ethics reforms. This paper aims, first, to document and review research misconduct perpetrated by Hwang and members of his research team, with particular attention to the agencies that failed to regulate and then supervise Hwang’s research. The paper then examines the research ethics reforms introduced in the wake of this international scandal. After reviewing American and European research governance structures and policies, policy makers developed a mixed model mindful of its Korean context. The third part of the paper examines how research ethics reform is proactive (a response to shocking scientific misconduct and ensuing external criticism from the press and society) as well as reactive (identification of and adherence to national or international ethics standards). The last part deals with Korean society’s response to the Hwang affair, which had the effect of a moral atomic bomb and has led to broad ethical reform in Korean society. We conceptualize this change as ethical modernization, through which the Korean public corrects the failures of a growth-oriented economic model for social progress, and attempts to create a more trustworthy and ethical society.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We interviewed two whistle-blowers (former researchers in Hwang’s lab), Hak-Soo Han (Producer of PD Notebook who debunked the Hwang’s scientific misconducts in a national television program in Korea), Byung-Soo Kim (activist who protected two whistle-blowers and helped Producer Han to battle against Hwang’s ally), Jae-Kak Han (policy maker who ardently opposed Hwang’s research before the affair), Yang-Koo Kang (journalist who also revealed Hwang’s research misconducts during the affair) and Mr. M (activist who organized anti-Hwang protesters). All interviews are recorded and transcribed in verbatim.

  2. 2.

    Korea’s prosecutor office attempted to investigate Schatten in a face-to-face setting, as they did with all Korean witnesses and suspects. But because Schatten resides in Pittsburgh in the US, the office did not have legal authority to bring him to Korea. Instead, the prosecutor sent him a questionnaire on his role in Hwang’s research, and Schatten denied his involvement in Hwang’s fraud.

  3. 3.

    We cannot define the Korean system as a hybrid of US and European models, because Europe has various models of research ethics. It is safer to say that Korean policy makers and research ethics professionals pulled good models of various types of research ethics governance and combined them to fit the Korean context.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank reviewers for their valuable comments and criticisms. We are also grateful to Gardner Rogers who edited this paper. This research was funded by Science and Technology Policy Institute in Korea.

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Correspondence to Jongyoung Kim.

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Kim, J., Park, K. Ethical Modernization: Research Misconduct and Research Ethics Reforms in Korea Following the Hwang Affair. Sci Eng Ethics 19, 355–380 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-011-9341-8

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Keywords

  • Hwang affair
  • Ethical modernization
  • Research ethics
  • Scientific misconduct
  • Regulation
  • Stem cell research