Research fraud rampant in China
A Chinese study found that 60 percent of PhD candidates admitted to plagiarism, bribery.
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Yet Fang and other fraud-busters say such public disgracings are the exception, not the rule. They argue that the culture of plagiarism continues mainly because corruption runs to the upper levels of the institutions of higher learning, and efforts to expose it are throttled.Skip to next paragraph
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Take the case of Wei Yuquan. Mr. Wei is vice president of Sichuan University as well as an immunologist and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A recent article by Mr. Wei describing an experiment to treat cancer cells was billed as groundbreaking. Yet when Si Lu Sheng, a relatively obscure older pathologist from central China, reviewed the article, something stuck in his craw. Mr. Si asked Mr. Wei for simple verification. But Wei refused to present basic evidence, discuss methods, or even present receipts for lab purchases of special white mice. Yet on the basis of the article, Wei received a $60,000 grant from China's National Life Science and Nature fund - big money for professors here, some of whom make only $350 a month.
Si was flabbergasted. Nearing retirement, and with little to lose, he started a small campaign to expose what he felt was cheating, he told the Monitor.
Wei visited Si several times to talk him out of his campaign. Si was offered a lucrative research project. But Si wasn't biting. So, a different kind of pressure was exerted - Si got harassing phone calls and his wife was pressured at her job. In the end, the university backed its vice president. But no substantive evidence of the veracity of the medical test has been forthcoming.
"I got involved to warn younger scholars of the harm of falsifying research," Si says. "The faking is obvious, everyone knows it. But no one dares to talk about it, since the university president declared the work was acceptable. When the senior leaders at the university ordered the discussion to be closed, it was."
So Si sent a set of letters and the case to Fang's website.
A Sichuan University spokesman contacted Monday said that, "There is no clear line between academic corruption and academic disputes. People who are fighting against corruption are not reliable and do so to make a name. We should let the leaders of the university decide."
"What we need is to actually punish those who commit fraud, to kick them out," says Tsinghua University engineering professor Zhou Nanyuan, who does research in the area of science fraud. "So far we only have an oral commitment to police this, from our university leaders. The problem is that many violators remain, even after they are exposed."
"The higher the position a cheater occupies, the easier for him to avoid investigation and punishment," Fang told the Monitor.
The increase in science-related fraud contributes to the exposure of corruption, since science tends to be a performance-driven discipline where verification is part of the accepted process, experts here say.
Still, Si says that serious science review mechanisms are lacking. The science magazine editors that first published the article were chosen by seniority rather than professional capability, Si says.
Party members loyal to the school have far greater say in the review process than a more knowledgeable, but less senior, figures. Since grants are state funds, few on the review boards are willing to stick their necks out and rebut serious scientific claims - especially for grant proposals that appear under titles like "national research."