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South Korean Skeptics Work to Promote Science-Based Medicine

Uiwon, Hwang

October 10, 2012

1. My Profile

photo of Uiwon, Hwang

My name is Uiwon, Hwang, 35 years old. I majored in railroad engineering at university and worked as a rolling stock driver after graduating. I always had some interest in the global scientific skepticism movement, a rare case in Korea. This is how I started to work in the field of scientific journalism.

I had also been very interested in politics. In 2006, I made a forum site Skeptical Left, available at: (http://www.skepticalleft.com). I tried to challenge the sacred, taboo, and the authoritative. We focused on every field that requires critical thinking and humanism. My focus included scientific skepticism and atheism.

Politically, I am close to liberalism. But sometimes I am classified as conservative, as I enjoy correcting the phenomenon where “political correctness” is used to distort the truth and facts. Both politically and as a skeptic, my main focus is on debunking oriental medicine quackery. I am committed to spreading atheism, which is a fine tool to teach critical thinking and humanism. But most of all, I am focused on the problems with traditional Korean medicine (Oriental medicine) because it has been hidden and protected even more than the religions. It is also good for the education of scientific skepticism.

Currently, I am working as a scientific journalist at Mediawatch/Bignews (http://bignews.co.kr). I also work for the Korean Medical Association as an advisor in the Special Committee for Countermeasures Against Oriental Medicine (http://www.truemedicine.or.kr). I also founded the 'Institute for Science-Based Medicine (http://www.i-sbm.org) and I am promoting it now. ISBM's main goal is to throw out Oriental medicine from the mainstream. The web page will be launched this September to start the activities. I am the Chief Executive Officer of ISBM. Soon, I’ll show you the English version of this web page and the guidebook.

Contact Information

Email:
skepticalleft@gmail.com
mahlerian@hanmail.net
webmaster@i-sbm.org

Web address:
http://www.i-sbm.org
http://www.bignews.co.kr
http://www.skepticalleft.com
http://www.truemedicine.or.kr

Address:
Hanseo Riverpark Office 1402, 11-11, Yeouido-Dong, Yeongdeungpo-Gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea

office door with organization names on it

2. Past Activities (Regarding Oriental Medicine)

Regarding the Oriental medicine issue, I have been involved in the following activities:

1) For the last 5 years, I have been criticizing Oriental medicine on my web page (skepticalleft.com).

2) There is a famous web page called “BRIC” (Biological Research Information Center, http://bric.postech.ac.kr). This is a reputable web page in Korea that discusses biological science. (It is famous for having exposed the problem with a research paper by Professor Woosuk, Hwang (http://www.nature.com/news/specials/hwang/index.html). Several years ago, I contributed to the debate on Oriental medicine. (It became a hot issue and several newspapers released articles about it.)

3) Sponsored by the Korean Medical Association (http://www.kma.org/english/1_greetings.asp?imagename=Image26&newimage=images/b_m1b.gif) I invited Jeanman Kim who translated the web version of the “skeptic's dictionary” for a lecture regarding CSI and CFI. (There was an article released on Korean Medical Association's newsletter.)

4) I was in charge of producing the web page of Special Committee for Countermeasures Against Oriental Medicine (SCCAOM), which is an affiliated organization of the Korean Medical Association (KMA). I also supplied the contents for the web page.

5) Recently, I published an advertisement on a reputable web page of students. It was about criticizing Oriental medicine with the name of SCCAOM. This brought a hot social sensation. (Plenty of articles were released and I was almost sued.)

Since August 2011, I have been in charge of the science section of Mediawatch, a weekly magazine. I am bringing many pseudoscience issues including Traditional Korean Medicine (Oriental medicine) under the spotlight.

3. Planned Activities (Regarding Oriental Medicine and Scientific Skepticism)

1) Incorporated Association for Science-Based Medicine

I have recently established the Institute for Science-Based Medicine, and I am trying to muster the medical doctors and scientists of the same mind. ISBM is a similar organization to the Institute for Science in Medicine and the National Council Against Health Fraud. With an aggressive promotional campaign, we plan to bring the Traditional Korean Medicine issue under the spotlight (http://www.i-sbm.org).

2) Publishing of a Criticizing Book on Oriental Medicine

Based on the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, I am now preparing a book criticizing Oriental medicine. It will include articles by Stephen Barrett, Harriet Hall, Kimball Atwood, and Steven Novella criticizing acupuncture. Some other criticizing articles on Oriental medicine will be added.

3) Publishing a Book on Scientific Skepticism and Atheism

Although not to the extent of Oriental medicine, I strongly think that atheism has to be discussed in Korea as well. Now I am writing an encyclopedia-style book that introduces the concepts of scientific skepticism. In Korea, we have many people with a high-education. Once somebody begins the scientific skepticism movement, it can and will be spread widely and swiftly. My plan is to publish this book within this year.

4) Incorporated Association for Science-Based Thinking

By 2013 or 2014, I plan to establish an organization that discusses and teaches science-based thinking and scientific skepticism. It will follow the same line as CFI, and discuss all the fields that CFI deals with, from religion to climate and everything in between. Establishment of ISBM will be of a great help in founding this new organization, in terms of experiences and the groundwork. By the time this new organization begins its activities, we should be able to implement many things together with CFI.

papers and books on a desk

4. Topics That Are Important to Skeptics in Korea

In the United States, the scientific skepticism movement seems to have conflicts with Christianity. Here, it is quite different.

In Korea, religion does not exercise a strong power like in the United States. It is impossible to imagine the President of Korea taking an oath with his hand on the Bible. Creationists do not have any authority to interfere in public education. In the publishing business, books discussing atheism sell well without any problem.

Rather than the religions, we have been facing more problems with left-wing ideology, especially anti-Americanism and anti-Occidentalism. These issues are severe and their proponents have formed an authority. The funny thing about this is that it is always connected with an anti-science agenda. I will introduce you to a couple of examples that happened recently.

1) In the summer of 2008, there was civil disorder in Korea regarding the importing of U.S. beef. It was nearly a riot. The leftists in Korea claimed, "We have to eat the unsafe U.S. beef due to the pressure from the U.S. government, and eating U.S. beef results in mad cow disease." Surprisingly, this incitement worked and our democratically elected president faced pressure to resign. The truth was that no Korean or no Korean cow ever died due to mad cow disease.

2) In 2010, the South Korean patrol corvette “Cheonanham” was sunk by a torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine. Highly reputable organizations and engineers from overseas came to Korea for the investigation. They confirmed that the attack was done by a North Korean torpedo. However, some leftists in Korea came up with some lousy conspiracy theory rooted in denial. Unfortunately, they managed to dazzle the public. They said the attack was done by the Korean government or U.S. Navy. There were no experts included among those leftists who strongly denied that Cheonanham was attacked by North Koreans. This case is almost identical to climate change denial.

In addition to this, there was an anti-water fluoridation movement by radical-environmentalists along with an anti-stem cell research movement by radical-feminist groups. It seems like the leftists in this country are totally against science. I know that pseudoscience is not just a problem with specific political groups. But it is true that the leftists seized hegemony of the Internet from the early 21st century. This is why pseudoscience by leftists has become a more serious issue.

Furthermore, oriental medicine is also linked with ideology. Just like alternative medicine in the United States, oriental medicine is strongly connected with New Age, post-modernism, and nationalism. There was at least a “conflict” for the U.S. beef issue and the Cheonanham issue, for we had some right-wing activists who stood against leftists. However, the oriental medicine issue is not getting any attention here. Both the left and right try to conceal this issue. This is why I am focusing on it.

Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine magazines

5. Special Committee for Countermeasures Against Oriental Medicine (http://www.truemedicine.or.kr)

1) The Membership

The Special Committee for Countermeasures Against Oriental Medicine (SCCAOM) consists of KMA's senior medical doctors. It is the skeptic's group that I work for. Although they are currently following the skeptical way, most of the members were not educated with scientific skepticism in the first place. They faced several conflicts against Oriental medicine groups and then became “skeptical.” As medical doctors, they are outstanding. But for science-based medicine, I give them a lot of education and advice.

2) History of the Group

For SCCAOM's background, please refer to the following link:

On Establishment (* scroll down to see the English version)
http://www.truemedicine.or.kr/tm/sub_page.php?page_idx=8

For more than ten years, SCCAOM has been working as a unit that prevents Oriental medicine from plundering the field of modern conventional medicine. The main records are as the following:
Major Activities (scroll down to see the English version)
http://www.truemedicine.or.kr/tm/sub_page.php?page_idx=9

3) Number of Supporters, etc.

KMA, an association with more than 100,000 members, is supporting SCCAOM both financially and politically. The funding is not difficult, but the range of activities is limited. This is because it can become a political and flammable issue sometimes. Most of the main issues are about protecting the field of modern conventional medicine. (This itself is useful against the quackery, but the educational effect is minimized. Just like the American Medical Association which abandoned during the battle against chiropractic practitioners, there is a similar movement inside KMA.) Since SCCAOM takes the strongest stand among Korean medical doctors, KMA remonstrates SCCAOM's activities quite often.

Chairman's Message (scroll down to see the English version)
http://www.truemedicine.or.kr/tm/sub_page.php?page_idx=7

Medical Science-Based Integration (scroll down to see the English version)
http://www.truemedicine.or.kr/tm/sub_page.php?page_idx=92

Institute for Science-Based Medicine papers

6. Institute for Science-Based Medicine (http://www.i-sbm.org)

1) The Membership

ISBM was established in September 2012. It is an organization of medical doctors who would like to overview the oriental medicine with the view of “science-based medicine.” ISBM is not solely for medical doctors. Anyone who agrees with the view of “science-based medicine” is welcome to participate.

2) History of the Group

This organization derives from the NGO Citizen Alliance for Medical Practice Mergence. It is the NGO established by Yongsang Yoo, the current chairman of SCCAOM. This NGO has been established for the unification of Oriental medicine and alternative medicine. At the beginning, it was close to the view of integrative medicine. Thanks to the sincere effort of Yongsang Yoo, they have changed to science-based medicine and finally turned into the Institute for Science-Based Medicine.

3) Number of Supporters, etc.

Yongsang Yoo is our main sponsor. He is an icon in the field of criticizing oriental medicine. The Korean Medical Association will also support us unofficially. Hundreds of medical doctors who agree with science-based medicine are willing to participate in ISBM. We estimate that roughly 1,000–2,000 paying members will be with us. The number will be smaller if the oriental medicine groups or any political forces intervene. For the first several years, ISBM will focus on translating science-based medicine articles from overseas to spread them throughout the country.

In Korea, there has not been any organized activity that officially advocates scientific skepticism. There are small groups that follow atheism. And we have some cynical groups about oriental medicine like SCCAOM. The problem is that Korean intellectuals are ignorant about international scientific skepticism activities.

I strongly think it is my duty to build a network among scientific skepticism groups in Korea. Then I will lead them to the international level.

As I mentioned earlier, creationists in Korea are not even close to public education. It seems like my further explanation is required. Maybe someone will point out that my claim is different from what Nature (http://www.nature.com/news/south-korea-surrenders-to-creationist-demands-1.10773) reported recently.

The article in Nature can twist both the reality and true picture of the case in Korea. What the creationists mentioned about our textbook was partially right, even in the eyes of evolutionists. There is a scientific consensus that Archaeopteryx is not the direct ancestor of birds. However, textbooks in Korea have been claiming that Archaeopteryx is the direct ancestor of birds. This is what the creationists pointed out, and they managed to modify the textbooks. No claim with creationism was ever added.

It is true that most of the claims made by the creationists are wrong. And it is silly of the creationists to regard this case as their “victory.” However, a proper criticism by them should be accepted by us, the scientific community. This never means that they have won the battle.

In Korea, there are some political groups which exaggerate the power of Christianity for ideological reasons. Even some scientists and evolutionists are being manipulated by them. They cannot become skeptics just by attacking Christianity and creationism. (I am sure it is the same in the U.S. and U.K.)

I also abhor religions and creationism. Yet I don't want science and creationism to beat them up in a mean way. I hope to have an opportunity to contribute to an international journal regarding the distinct characteristics in Korea.