The text: Underlying the rise and fall of South Korean stem-cell scientist Hwang Woo Suk is a nation's hunger for a national hero. Korean analysts say the quick idolization and subsequent diminution of Hwang are typical urges in a country eager to tie its national aspirations to the political or scientific successes of its citizens. Media and government, Koreans say, were complicit in this process.
But for the imprimatur of the journals Science and Nature on fraudulent work, there would have been no Schon and no Hwang. What happened afterwards may be a problem, but it was a problem caused by issues at the premier journals.
The Chronicle continued:
South Korean media initially helped to build up Hwang into a national figure, and later was instrumental in taking him apart. Newspapers in South Korea followed closely Hwang's research, using expressions such as "the people's project" to publicize the scientist's successes. Korea-based online forums criticized conservative papers in South Korea for uncritically supporting the scientist and adding to an already sanctified air around Hwang. Bloggers blasted papers such as the Chosun Daily for a perceived nationalist bias. Earlier in the year, several editorials in Korean papers examined what Koreans were calling the "Hwang Woo Suk syndrome," the way media elevated Hwang to heroic heights and placed him beyond criticism. Los Angeles-based Korea Times staff writer Kenneth Kim called the Hwang syndrome "definitely a product of the media. The media instigated people to see Hwang as a national hero."
Others question why government and the media got involved with Hwang in the first place. The Korean government poured more than $20 million of taxpayer money into Hwang's research. South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun personally visited Hwang's lab, saying he "had never been so moved since taking office." Other government officials formed support groups for the scientist. The Korean government hoped that Hwang's success would make South Korea the center of one of science's most promising fields, bringing with it increased foreign investment and international fame. Korean businesses also shared in the hope that Hwang's research would rein in large sums.
Despite continuing revelations of Hwang's deceptions, many Koreans, both in Korea and abroad, still stand by the scientist. When allegations about Hwang's faked research first surfaced in media, Koreans rallied in defense of the scientist. Thousands protested against the TV station MBC, and its program, "PD Diary," for discrediting Hwang. Reactions were in fact so swift and strong that MBC later apologized and cancelled "PD Diary," one of the longest running and most successful news programs in South Korea. Many Koreans at first speculated that scientists outside of Korea were jealous of Hwang's success and sought to disgrace him and his work. Some Koreans are still loath to give up on him. Yoon Tae Il runs the Web site, "I Love Hwang Woo Suk," which is dedicated to defending the scientist. On his site Yoon describes himself as suffering from an incurable disease. He says that many who come to his site suffer also from incurable diseases and that most still hold out hope that Hwang's research might one day discover a cure. In a recent blog, Yoon vowed to defend Hwang and his research "to the death."