July 30, 2008

Monks in Korea Stick up for Disgraced Scientist

But why?

South Korea's Buddhist monks have urged the government to allow disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk to continue his stem cell research.

"It is deplorable that research by Hwang Woo-suk and his team is suppressed unreasonably," the monks said in a resolution. "The government should approve the research in order to save a greater soul."

The resolution came ahead of the Health Ministry's decision Saturday over whether to approve Hwang's request to restart his work.

Hwang, once considered a national hero, has been on trial for alleged fraud and violation of bioethics laws after his team was found in January 2006 to have fabricated results to claim success in his study.

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Kwanghee Woo's picture

While Dr. Hwang has been widely accepted as a fraud in the western academic community, there is still controversy regarding him in Korea, replete with conspiracy theories, die hard followers, and the whole media spectacle. The fact that he is on trial in 2008 for a scandal that occurred in 2006 is testimony to that.

He is also a converted Buddhist, and has at least, some good connections in the Jogye Order of Buddhism (the main sect of Korean Buddhism). They have supported him in the past, notably when they conflicted with Korean Christian groups who were against Dr. Hwang's research on bio-ethical grounds. Both Christianity and Buddhism hold significant political clout in Korea, and they are very much involved in politics.

The show of support in the article is a result of Dr. Hwang's direct request for support from the organization of Head Priests of Temples. The actual higher-ups in the Jogye Order's Bureaucracy are taking a more cautious approach. While they have allowed the Head Priests to show their support for Dr. Hwang, they are at the same time reproaching them for being too hasty, and themselves taking a neutral stance.

Rinchen Gyatso's picture

I think this article is a bit distorted. "Buddhist monks" gives the impression that all Buddhist monks want Hwang to continue his research. I suspect he has some supporters who happen to be monks, but I doubt the monastic establishment as a whole supports him or is even paying attention to the trial.

The comments were even more confusing. One commentor, "jewboy," said:

"My blood is boiling after reading this article. Buddhist monks are interfering in national politics. Perhaps the government should send the riot police to crack open their bald heads. These monks should no longer be treated as religious figures."

So he wants the monks to be violently beaten by government forces because they hold an unpopular opinion? What!?

I'm in Korea now, so I'll try to find out why there are monks supporting him.