North Korean Science and Technology Journals: Getting to Know the Researchers (Part 1)

Cover of Kisul Hyoksin / 기술혁신 (Technical Innovation), no. 12 (2020).

Who are North Korea’s scientists and engineers? What are their backgrounds? Where did they study abroad? Who are their foreign colleagues? Where are they working now? What do they know? What did they post? What lab equipment do they have? What are their main areas of research and development?

These questions are important for analysts, journalists and others trying to piece together such puzzles as the technological level of various industrial sectors of the civilian economy or the state of research and development of weapons of mass destruction ( ADM) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. (DPRK or North Korea).[1]

North Korea releases relatively little information about its overall economy, specific industries, or such sensitive military topics as WMD programs, but analysts and others can use the country’s open sources to gain valuable information on the science and technology (S&T) of the DPRK. The most sensitive information — that concerning WMD and other areas of military research — is not found between the covers of books and periodicals published by North Korea. Pyongyang does not make any military scientific journals or purely military research articles available abroad. Yet there is plenty of published information available that provides many pieces to one puzzle or another, whether purely civilian, dual-use, or military in nature.

This article is the first of two on the use of DPRK science and technology literature and other media as the basis for establishing relatively detailed profiles of North Korean scientists, engineers, and their affiliated institutions. It begins with a list of available S&T periodicals and ends with a section on its shortcomings compared to similar literature published in other countries.

Periodic list and details

Korea Publications Export & Import Corporation (KPEIC), the DPRK’s exclusive overseas sales agency for North Korean books and periodicals, publishes a catalog of publications that includes Rodong Sinmounthe daily of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea;[2] the illustrated monthly Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other propaganda newspapers produced for a foreign audience; and natural and social science journals.[3]

For this search, 40 DPRK S&T journals were reviewed (Appendix I includes a full list of titles with bibliographic information).[4]

Many titles Available, Many After Faded away

Cover of Kwahak-ui Segye / 과학의 세계 (World of Science), no. 6 (2019).

The above 40 periodicals cover a wide variety of fields, as their titles indicate, including scientific fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as fields of industrial technology, including agriculture, forestry and technical innovation in general. Included are several scientific journals from Kim Il Sung University (KISU), the DPRK’s flagship university. There is also a periodical of international scientific news, world of sciencefor the general reader.

While 40 titles may seem like relative wealth for a country deemed secretive, they are just the tip of the iceberg. For example, Kim Chaek University of Technology (KCUT), another of the major S&T universities in Pyongyang, has its own publishing house. It produces at least one S&T periodical, which is not among the 40 listed in the appendix.[5] One has to wonder how many other universities in the DPRK, not to mention branches and institutes of the State Academy of Sciences or other work units in North Korea, publish S&T literature.[6]

Out of information

Compared to comparable periodicals published in other countries, the DPRK publications listed above lack detail. Some of the available journals lack English article abstracts and/or a table of contents, a standard feature of journals in China and other countries whose S&T literature is published in languages ​​other than English.

There is little information on the authors of articles – only a few of the 40 journals offer author information. Entries in the DPRK Invention Journal include the standard field code (72), which is the name of the inventors, and (77), which appears to identify their affiliated organization. In the review agricultural irrigation and world of science, some writers are identified as “the reporter for this company” or by title and/or affiliation. It may be reasonable to assume that authors appearing in KISU journals are affiliated with Kim Il Sung University, but their affiliation is not stated. None of the 40 journals used for this research include standard background information such as an author’s education or research interests.

Cover of Kim Il-song Chonghap Taehak Hakpo: Chongbo Kwahak / 김일성종합대학: 정보과학 (Journal of Kim Il Sung University [Information Science]) 66, no. 3 (2020).

Articles in the reviewed journals also tend to be much shorter than what is published in scientific journals elsewhere in the world. A six-page article is relatively long in journals, where many articles are only three to four pages long. The endnotes, too, are few. It is possible to come across an article with one or even two dozen citations, but most have less than half a dozen references.[7] In comparison, it is common to have several dozen endnotes in a single article in Western S&T literature.

The accompanying illustrations also appear to be fewer than would be featured in articles published elsewhere in the world. The Pyongyang Bimonthly world of sciencefor example, has only a few black and white illustrations per issue, whereas Discover and American scientist, to name but two American periodicals, are full of color photographs and illustrations. North Korean articles also lack conflict of interest terms, common in articles published elsewhere, and an acknowledgment section.

One thing that North Korean S&T journals include that is not found in Western journals is political rationale. Each article begins with a quote from a leader. Older articles cite the first leader, Kim Il Sung; more recent ones tend to cite something from the collected works of Kim Jong Il or something from the titular Kim Jong Un. another. For example, in an article published last year on calculating the efficiency of equipment based on the Internet of Things (IoT), the authors began their article with a quote from the current leader on vigorously achieving breakthroughs in advanced technologies to build the country’s knowledge economy.[8]

Apart from the above differences, researchers in the DPRK essentially follow the same format as their counterparts in other countries. They state a problem, cite previous academic literature, present their materials and methods, offer a conclusion, and end with references.

And after

After listing the available titles and shortcomings of these DPRK S&T periodicals, in the next article I will suggest ways to use these journals to learn more about Pyongyang scientists and engineers, from their backgrounds to their international connections. , their knowledge and the tools at their disposal. .


“North Korean Science and Technology Journals: Getting to Know the Academics (Part 1) Appendix I”, by Stephen Mercado