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Lawmaker-elect latest plagiarism perpetrator

By Korea Herald

Published : April 24, 2012 - 19:43

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Experts cite need for rigorous checking system to detect copying of others’ work


Lawmaker-elect Moon Dae-sung bowed out of the ruling party Friday soon after Kookmin University announced that his doctoral thesis had plagiarized another’s work.

Still, his exit seems to have fallen short of calming down either the ruling and opposition camps, both of which have decried plagiarism.

Moon Sung-keun, acting leader of the main opposition Democratic United Party, called on Monday for him to abandon his parliamentary seat and apologize to the Busan constituents who elected him.

“The International Olympic Committee is reportedly looking into allegations about his plagiarism. It is now an international issue. Though it is late, he should apologize to Busan citizens and give up his seat immediately if he wants to avoid being humiliated internationally,” he said on his Twitter account.

The IOC has confirmed that the 36-year-old Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo faces possible IOC action over his plagiarism.

“The IOC will ask to receive the reports related to this case, study them and then consider whether any action needs to be taken,” an IOC official told The Korea Herald.

In Korea thesis plagiarists may be fined a maximum of 5 million won for minor plagiarism. In serious cases, such as copying most of someone else’s paper without giving credit, the penalty goes up to five years in prison or a maximum 50 million won fine. However, professors rarely file criminal suits over thesis plagiarism.
Moon Dae-sung, a lawmaker-elect, gets into his car near the National Assembly building last Wednesday, shortly after canceling a news conference on his thesis plagiarism. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Moon Dae-sung, a lawmaker-elect, gets into his car near the National Assembly building last Wednesday, shortly after canceling a news conference on his thesis plagiarism. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Moon does not appear to be the only case of thesis plagiarism involving lawmakers-elect. Rival parties are raising questions about two other politicians.

About 10 pages of the doctoral thesis submitted by four-term DUP adviser Rep. Chung Sye-kyun to Kyung Hee University in 2004 is reportedly very similar to a master’s thesis submitted to Korea University by a graduate student in 1991.

The 1992 doctoral thesis by Saenuri lawmaker-elect and former North Chungcheong Gov. Chung Woo-taek also came under suspicion that it borrowed a number of sentences from a Dankook University professor’s 1990 academic paper without giving credit.

Prior to Moon’s case, several high-profile figures had fallen from grace due to plagiarism. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Human Resources Kim Byong-joon resigned in August 2006 amid a plagiarism scandal just 13 days after he had been appointed deputy prime minister.

Lee Pil-sang, a business professor at Korea University, stepped down as president of the school in February 2007, 56 days after his inauguration. Five of his academic papers were found to have plagiarized others’ papers.

Experts cite the lack of an effective system to detect plagiarism as one of the reasons for the recurrence of academic cheating.

“Quite a few theses receive approval from professors, despite their copy of many words or ideas from other sources without giving them credit,” a professor at a Seoul-based university said.

Under the current government guideline on research ethics, plagiarism is a matter that should be dealt with on the level of individual universities or institutes. Once plagiarism is publicly alleged, the relevant university or institute is to form an investigation committee.

In 2007, the Education Ministry drew up a guideline against research irregularities, including plagiarism, after a data manipulation incident involving high-profile stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk. In 2005, it was revealed that the former Seoul National University professor had tampered with some data in his research on cloning human embryo stem cells.

An education ministry official said that duplicate detection is a question to be resolved by individual universities on a case-by-case basis.

“Each university has its own ethical standards, which are different from university to university. A penalty for plagiarism is possible, but the state guideline is not legally binding,” he said.

An academic promotion foundation suggested to the Education Ministry in 2007 that six or more words in a row that are copied without citing their source could be regarded as plagiarism.

“In reality, it is difficult to find a common denominator by which one can discern plagiarism. I think it desirable for each university to respond to the problem in consideration of characteristics of academic specialty,” the official said.

As plagiarism is left hidden unless someone else blows the whistle, statistics on plagiarism do not exist, but in 2008, civic groups reviewed a number of theses in the field of arts after the plagiarism and fake degree scandal involving Shin Jeong-ah rocked the nation. They blacklisted 42 professors at 12 universities.

Moon’s case also put a spotlight again on the problem of ghostwriting. These days, ghostwriters do not become involved in the production of research papers, according to online data vendors. They rather broker an assortment of topics, data and existing research papers so that clients can easily assemble them into finished products like building a model.

In order to root out the long-standing practice of plagiarism, experts say self-purification efforts within the education community are the first and foremost thing to do.

“Plagiarism is a matter of personal ethics, so it should be resolved from the source, that is, between the author and the screening professors. Especially so because a doctoral thesis usually comes under intense scrutiny,” Lim Eun-hee, a researcher at the Korea Higher Education Research Institute, said. “The author should make efforts to avoid plagiarism, while the professors should be alert to prevent it.”

She also blamed the academic circle’s chronic insensitivity.

“It is a problem for both students and professors to give little thought to the seriousness of plagiarism. They should strengthen education in research ethics, while building a rigorous preventive system,” she said.

Plagiarism prevention seems to be an elusive goal, though.

“A university forms a research ethics panel to review a plagiarism case. The measure comes after the fact,” Lim said.

Experts also attribute plagiarism to obsession with doctoral degrees. In most cases, universities require doctoral degrees when hiring professors. According to the statistics compiled by the Korea Education Development Institute in 2011, of 58,104 full-time instructors or professors of four-year universities, 84.3 percent or 48,968 hold doctoral degrees.

According to the Korean Council for University Education, the proportion of Ph.D. holders out of university professors across the country expanded rapidly from 14.9 percent in 1965 to 33.1 percent in 1980 to 82.9 percent in 1992.

Even music, arts and physical education departments require doctoral degrees customarily from aspiring instructors or professors, even though the departments make much of practical skills rather than degrees, according to a research paper for the council.

By Chun Sung-woo (swchun@heraldcorp.com)