President Moon Jae-in has come under fire for naming a controversial figure to spearhead his government’s policy on research and development of science and technology, with some critics calling it Moon’s “worst personnel appointment.”
On Monday, President Moon appointed Professor Park Ki-young박기영 of Sunchon National University to lead the Science, Technology and Innovation Office at the Ministry of Science and ICT. The move triggered noisy criticism from scientists, politicians and civic groups that criticized her unfit for the post dubbed as a science policy control tower.
The critics ratcheted up pressure on the President Wednesday to cancel his appointment of Park who was mired in a 2005 stem-cell research fraud case, the infamous “Hwang Woo-suk” scandal.
Many civic groups, including the Korean Bioethics Association, People’s Power, Seoul Bioethics Forum, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements, as well as opposition political, called for the “immediate withdrawal” of the appointment.
Park was one of the key figures behind what has become one of the biggest scientific frauds in the nation’s history, according to the Korean Federation Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights.
If confirmed, Park will attend Cabinet meetings and exercise substantive authority to handle and allocate up to 20 trillion won ($17 billion) of the government’s research and development funds.
The opposition People’s Party accused Moon of naming “Hwang’s patron” as the head of the important office. The Bareun Party also cried foul, call for the government to restart by changing the name of the office.
The Korean Federation Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights added that Park’s nomination “undermines the trust of the government’s science and technology policy.”
The controversy surrounding Park stems from her role in helping Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean researcher who fabricated a series of cloning experiments published in high-profile international journals. Hwang had been considered one of the pioneering experts in the field until November 2005 when intensive media scrutiny revealed most of his stem-cell research had been faked.
Park, who served as the presidential advisor for information, Science and technology under the late President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004, wielded significant influence in Hwang’s rise to prominence, funding 25 billion won for his research and hailing him as the “Pride of Korea.”
Hwang also listed Park as a co-author in one of his papers that appeared in the journal, Science. Despite the fabrication, Park intentionally omitted to report the fraud to President Roh while blaming the media. After weeks of refusing to accept her responsibility for the controversy, she resigned from the advisory post on Jan. 10, 2006. Park had also been charged with illegally gaining research funds.
In response to the dissent, a key official of the Blue House said, “The President is aware of the controversy surrounding Park, but thinks he has named the right person to serve as the control tower of research and development.”
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