Liz Wager: Discussing research misconduct with Dr Hwang

Liz WagerIn a country where over half the population is called Kim, Park, or Lee, it probably shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to find myself talking about research misconduct with Dr Hwang in South Korea. Although he shares a name with a researcher notorious for fraud, this Dr Hwang is busy running courses on research integrity to make sure his namesake’s exploits don’t occur again.

Apparently, the South Korean government has put money behind several initiatives to reduce misconduct. There is a national website with links to resources including the COPE flowcharts, which have been translated into Korean. They are also working on making sure that every university has a committee or individual responsible for research ethics—I got a bit lost in the details, but I’m pretty sure these are different from the committees (or IRBs) that review research proposals, but these have also been reformed and strengthened in recent years.

On this trip, I’ve run workshops and given talks to Korean editors and researchers and it’s been great to find enthusiastic and highly motivated audiences. Most journals are produced by academic societies rather than commercial publishers and they seem keen to follow best practice. There is an energetic Korean Council of Science Editors, which has already run six workshops in its first 18 months of existence, and a longer established, but equally dynamic Korean Association of Medical Journal Editors (both of whom I’ve addressed, speaking about COPE, editors’ role in suspected misconduct, raising the quality of peer review, and journal strategies for success).

Sometimes it takes a public scandal to wake people up to the reality of research misconduct. Over an excellent dinner (another delight of visiting this country) the second Dr Hwang agreed that South Korea should, in a funny way, be grateful to his namesake for creating the scandal that raised the profile of research misconduct sufficiently to make the government take action.  In which case, I  think South Korea should be equally grateful to the “other” Dr Hwang who is training the next generation of Korean scientists about research ethics.

Liz Wager PhD is a freelance medical writer, editor, and trainer. She was the chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (2009-2012).