Korea-based blogger Oranckay puts the Hwang Woo Suk cloning fiasco in larger societal context. Here’s a small sampling.
IMHO, just how it was that Hwang was able to have his way with the country is far more important than that of what possibly could have been going on inside his head. History is full of con artists and psychopaths, but few ever enjoy the status bestowed on Hwang and figuring out how he was able to deify himself is of more critical importance. If someone robs a bank, you don’t ask why he did it. There have always been bank robbers and there always will be. The important question is how he did it and how he got away with it, and in this case the bank shares a lot of the blame.
Naturally, however, one does wonder what Hwang’s problem is. The best quote I’ve seen (was in the international media but I can’t find it) is that he might have been trying to “fake it ’till you make it.” He needed lots of money and lots of eggs, and maybe he figured that he could really pull it off before the lies caught up with him once he had what he needed to work with….
How was he able to get away with it for so long?
Put simply, I think Korean society as a whole has itself to blame for the international embarrassment. It got really hard to question him once he published the 2005 article then went to speak at a conference in the U.S., saying upon his return to Korea that he’d gone to “the heart of America” and “planted a Korean flag on the top of the hill of bioscience.”…
As I mentioned briefly in a piece I wrote for the Kyunghyang Shinmun, I actually find reason for hope in all of this. Others have noted reasons such as the fact that in the end, the media, or some of it, did get the truth out for all to see; that the Korean scientific community got to the bottom of the matter on its own; and, ironically, I think Korea has reason to be encouraged by the fact that the rest of the world fell for Hwang’s fabrications. Most countries only get to do international mail order fraud. 10 or 15 years ago if a group of Korean scientists had said they’d cloned stem cells they’d have been laughed at. Korea might be given more scrutiny next time around, but the world believed that Korea has the potential to make landmark scientific breakthroughs and was willing to be fooled. That would not have been the case not too long ago, and I think the world expects more of Korea than most of the Korean public realizes. The international scientific community will not be tricked so easily the next time, but then neither will Korea.