m a r k a n d e y a

Reuters: Books about South Korean Scientist Flop

Posted by Brian on December 30, 2005

Not only have the wheels fallen off the Dr. Hwang wagon, they are now careening through the air taking out random pedestrians. From Reuters:

South Korean publishers rushed to put books on celebrated scientist Hwang Woo-suk on store shelves only to find him embroiled in a scandal and their products becoming one of the biggest flops of the holiday season.

Hwang was once called the pride of South Korea for bringing the country to the forefront of stem cell and cloning research. Publishers aiming to cash in on his fame put out 16 books on him — 10 of which were children’s books.

Most of the books made their way to store shelves in the past year. In past days, however, those same books were headed back to publishers because demand dried up when charges surfaced that Hwang’s team fabricated data.

“We started taking children’s books on Hwang off the shelves just before Christmas,” said Kim Yea-won, a clerk at major book seller Kyobo. “Nobody wants them now.”

Ouch!

One curious aspect of these books – though probably unsurprising to long-time Korea-watchers –  is the hagiographic spin the authors put on the man, the myth, Dr. Hwang. Consider this passage:

“After Hwang announced his achievement through ‘Science’ magazine, people from all over the world invited him to speak. When they sent him a first-class seat, he politely refused saying he would ride economy class so he could bring more of his junior researchers with him to see the world instead.”

No word on whether or not Dr. Hwang returned to Korea by hoofing it across the Pacific, but that might have been planned for the sequel.

The list of people disappointed by Dr. Hwang continues to grow longer and longer. Now, it’s the children, who finally had someeone to look up to who wasn’t an athlete, prima-donna entertainer, or gun-toting wannabe-gangster rapper. From the Korea Times:

Until last year, Shin Chul, an eight-year-old elementary student, wanted to be a diplomat when he grew up.

However, this year, he changed his mind _ to be a scientist like Hwang Woo-suk so that he could heal many patients suffering from incurable diseases and paralysis.

The little boy, however, thought he had to readjust the direction of his dream after the fact-finding panel of Seoul National University (SNU) recently announced the results of its first probe that cloning scientist Hwang woo-suk fabricated data for his 2005 paper on tailor-made stem cells in the U.S. journal Science in May.

Shocked by the news, the elementary student still cannot believe that Hwang, whom he once considered as a hero and his lifetime role model, lied to the public, including many young children.

“Even my mother bought me several cartoon biography book about Prof. Hwang. After reading them, I made up my mind to be a great scientist. But what can I do now, if he actually lied?’’ Shin told The Korea Times.

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