The public have received important follow-up information on the adulterated oil scandal that broke last month after a whistle-blower tipped off authorities, not from food safety experts, but from blogger Billy Pan (潘建志), a psychiatrist at Wanfang Hospital in Taipei.
When Pan cited figures from the Customs Administration detailing cottonseed oil imports in his blog, the post was immediately picked up by concerned netizens, more than 800 of whom then shared the story on numerous forums and Web sites before the media followed suit.
Because his profession exposes him to all sectors of society via his patients and he has a great passion for learning, Pan, 47, has been actively blogging about almost every contemporary subject possible, from medical labor rights and the cross-strait service trade agreement, to food safety concerns.
“Many people start crying the moment they walk into my office at the hospital,” Pan said, adding that although the economy in Taiwan was not so bad that people were dying of hunger, his patients’ stories often made him shake his head and ask himself what was wrong with society.
“I’ve had patients who are taxi drivers that force themselves to drive 13 to 14 hours per day [to make ends meet], it’s completely inhumane,” Pan said, adding that despite the amount of hours Taiwanese work increasing, salaries showed no signs of climbing.
An avid user of online media, the value of Pan’s information-gathering was seen in 2008, when he helped ascertain that then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Diane Lee (李慶安) had dual citizenship, which elected official are not allowed to hold.
During Typhoon Morakot that same year, Pan and 40 other netizens made the “Morakot disaster map,” which became one of the most frequently visited Web sites at the time for people who wanted to learn about the disaster and ways to offer aid and donations.
Pan said that his training as a medical student ingrained in him the habit of checking for first-hand and original data from periodicals or foreign Web sites, as well as reproducing that information in layman’s terms so the average person can understand the issue and discuss it.
Pan is also the director-general of the Taiwan Blogger’s Association and over the seven or eight years that he has been active online, he has written more than 800 posts and articles.
Driven by an almost insatiable desire to acquire knowledge, Pan said he came into contact with magazines published by what were then called the dangwai (黨外, or “outside the party”) organizations while going through the attic of his English-language tutor’s house when he was in junior-high school.
After enrolling in Taipei Medical University’s School of Medicine, Pan said he joined the Green Cross Health Service Team that the late Lin Chieh-liang (林杰樑), a toxicologist at the Chang Kung Memorial Hospital known for exposing the presence of illegal additives in food and food safety violations, had founded.
Lin founded the team in 1988 to address the uneven distribution of medical resources across the nation, as well as the growing threat to public health posed by the burgeoning industrial sector.
Pan said he was shocked by the entire stretches of fields lying fallow due to contamination from heavy metals that he saw while on trips with the team.
Lin was already undergoing dialysis when Pan joined the team, but his calm demeanor and resolute devotion to helping the people were the best example of medical fidelity, Pan said.
Pan said he adhered to the lessons he learned from the era of student activism and hoped that through his activity and criticisms, he would not only held his patients, but also the entire public, effect a change in social system that would bring about a better quality of life.