Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hwang's "Artificial Mistake" Revisited

In Saturday's edition of the International Herald Tribune, I finally found an English translation of the odd linguistic construction (een-oui-juhk sheel-soo, 인위적 실수) that Hwang Woo-suk used to describe the incorrect data in his 'groundbreaking' paper published in the May 2005 edition of Science: "human errors."

The offline IHT passage, found in the article "Cloning research ruled 'fabrication,'" by Choe Sang-Hun, appears in the online Friday edition as "Research in cloning declared a fabrication," where Choe Sang-Hun shares authorial honors with Elisabeth Rosenthal:
Although Hwang has retracted his paper from the Washington-based journal Science, citing "human errors," Roe Jung Hye, dean of research affairs at Seoul National University, said at the news conference that the erroneous data "were not accidental mistakes, but were an intentional fabrication."
Most native speakers of English would pass right over the expression "human errors" without a pause since English has the conventional expression "human error" to describe mistakes that human beings make (as distinct from those made by demons, computers, or other postlapsarian creatures).

A careful reader, however, might pause over the plural "errors," which sounds a bit odd . . . at least to me.

And well one might pause, for "human errors" doesn't quite capture the nuance that Hwang expressed. As I previously noted -- spurred on by my wife -- Hwang formulated an ambiguous construction:
Hwang used this expression [인위적 실수] -- which means something like "artificial (인위적) mistake (실수)" -- to describe his decision to publish his 2005 article before obtaining all the necessary data. Specifically, he was referring to the fact that he had fabricated the data for some stem cells to add to those that he claimed to have truly derived, thus making up the eleven cited in his article.
I then asked knowledgeable readers if the expression een-oui-juhk sheel-soo (인위적 실수) means "artificial mistake" or perhaps "intentional mistake." Two such readers emerged with helpful information.

David Choi wrote, "In-Wee-Juk Shil-soo means intentional mistake. I don't know about artificial." To this, Noirum added a more elaborate explanation:

The literal interpretation of 인위 (or 人爲 in Hanja) is "man-made," which may mean either intentional, artificial or even "human," depending on the situation. By the way, there's a separate word for "artificial" in Korea, which is "인공(人工)" meaning "man-crafted."

[I]n this instance, I agree with David's explanation, because most Koreans interpreted Hwang's word as "intentional."

Hwang deliberately played on words to elude his falsification and make his artificial and intentional misconduct to look like even a "human mistake" to his sympathizers.

Noirum's information is very helpful. I showed it to my wife, who read it and nodded in agreement.

The expression een-oui-juhk sheel-soo (인위적 실수) doesn't easily translate and retain its ambiguity. The translation "intentional mistake" emphasizes that the error was no accident, which isn't quite what Hwang wanted to admit. At the same time, Hwang didn't want to use an expression that could only mean a "purely accidental mistake" since he probably didn't want to suggest any incompetence on his part and, in any case, was already partly admitting to having fabricated some data -- albeit data that he claimed to have truly established after submitting his paper for publication.

IHT journalist Choe Sang-Hun chose to take een-oui (인위) as "human" and translate een-oui-juhk sheel-soo (인위적 실수) as "human errors," perhaps choosing the plural "errors" to suggest that Hwang's expression was not quite idiomatic.

Whatever Hwang might have been trying to say or not say, we can describe what he really did as Roe Jung Hye put it: "intentional fabrication."

But I wonder how she put it in Korean . . .


At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Jeff!

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Nomad, even if you did mean to post this to the entry above.


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