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Science chief’s resignation puts Moon’s innovation drive on hold

The sudden resignation of the chief of the newly created science and technology control tower Friday has not only put the government’s appointment system in question but has also put its drive to innovate the sector on hold.

Facing strong opposition from academia and political parties, Park Ky-young, chief of the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation at the Ministry of Science and ICT, stepped down from the post four days after taking the job.

The office was launched as part of President Moon Jae-in’s state agenda to nurture the development of science and technology projects. It has been given authority over research and development plans worth 20 trillion won ($17.5 billion) for major projects.

Soonchunhyang University professor Park had been off to a shaky start since Moon named her for the vide minister-level position. Park co-authored fraudulent stem cell research papers by former Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk in 2004.

“I wonder why the appointment was made, because such backlash was quite expected,” said an official from a science-related government organization who declined to be named. “It would take quite some time since the presidential office is likely to move extremely cautiously.”

Due to Park’s resignation, the Science and ICT Ministry is facing a halt in its organizational changes, including personnel reshuffles, aimed at devising the Moon government’s science and ICT policies.

Park served as a science adviser to former President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004. Hwang’s papers on stem cells were found to have been manipulated in 2005. She is said to have wielded significant influence on the Roh government’s science policies.

On Thursday, Park refused to step down from the post, apologizing about the scandal for the first time in 11 years and claiming it was just a careless mistake. 
Park Ky-young, the chief of the Science, Technology and Innovation Office at the Ministry of Science and ICT, talks to reporters on Friday. (Yonhap)
Park Ky-young, the chief of the Science, Technology and Innovation Office at the Ministry of Science and ICT, talks to reporters on Friday. (Yonhap)

Opposition parties denounced the Moon administration’s appointment system Saturday.

“Park seemed like she was reluctantly stepping down due to fierce opposition from scientists,” said Jun Hee-kyung, spokeswoman for the Liberty Korea Party. “It is part of Cheong Wa Dae’s problematic appointment system that it continued picking unfit candidates for the government post.”

As for possible new candidates, Chung Mung-ae, secretary-general of the Presidential Advisory Council on Science & Technology, has been mentioned, according to news reports.

Chung studied chemistry and physics at Ewha Womans University in Seoul and has a Ph.D. in polymer physics from Clausthal University of Technology in Germany. She has worked for Korea Electrics Telecommunications Institute.

By Song Su-hyun (