An Important Lesson for the Conspiracy Theorists

Yoon Duk-yong, an honorary professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and head of a multinational team of investigators who probed the cause of the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, staked his reputation as a scientist on the authenticity of the findings. "A scientist is aware of the fact that his research papers will be presented to the world and will be archived for generations to come," Yoon said in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo. "That is how I felt as I pursued the investigation into the Cheonan." 

Yoon has a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University and was chosen as a top scientist by the Roh Moo-hyun administration. He stressed that he regarded the Cheonan probe through the objective lens of a scientist. It found that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan and killed 46 South Korean sailors.

But opinion polls still show that some 30 percent of the public are skeptical of the findings. The Internet is seething with posts from self-proclaimed experts posting misinformation regarding the sinking, while so-called intellectuals, celebrities and even lawmakers running for office are fueling interest in this rumor mongering. They claim that the remnants of the North Korean torpedo cannot possibly come from the weapon that sank the Cheonan. In response, Yoon pointed out that the white substance found on the hull of the Cheonan was later determined to be aluminum oxide. "We found the same aluminum oxide on the debris of the torpedo," Yoon added. He also refuted rumors being posted on the Internet that the number handwritten on a piece of the torpedo retrieved from the bottom of the West Sea, which directly links North Korea to the sinking, could have been added by the South Korean military.

Regarding claims made by an expert recommended by South Korean opposition lawmakers that the Cheonan crashed into a U.S. submarine after running aground, Yoon said, "If a ship runs aground, the protruding sonar dome on the bottom of the hull should be damaged, but that was not the case with the Cheonan, and an intensive probe showed no reefs in the waters where the vessel sank." Yoon added that a comprehensive investigation into all of the weapons systems aboard other warships that were near the Cheonan showed no signs of any weapon with the power of sinking the vessel had been fired. "Rumors of friendly fire by the U.S. military are groundless," he said.

Yoon said there is no hope if people continue to insist on these claims. "In one sense, persistent denials of the evidence have nothing to do with science but are actually a matter of attitude toward the quest for truth. You need to be humble when searching for the truth," he said. The country needs to foster a rational way of thinking among people through science education from an early age. "Mad cow disease and even nuclear war are all issues that need a scientific way of thinking," he said.

So-called intellectuals and politicians need to listen to the words of a respected scientist so they can shake off the strange delusion that hoping that something is the case will make it so, while refusing to accept concrete evidence based on scientific verification.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 01, 2010 13:18 KST