Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Xinhua Apologizes For Fake Photo

Thus reports the Wall Street Journal.

Plagiarizing Fang Zhouzi Himself

Besides spending a lot of his time busting scientific fraud, Fang Zhouzi's main interest remains in writing. He is a proficient writer of essays on popular science and culture, mostly in the form of newspaper columns and sometimes simply internet articles. Due to their popularities, his essays are often being re-published again and again, mostly without his permission or even any credit to his authorship. Sometimes they were also being plagiarized.

However, it is still unusual to see one of his earlier essays being blatantly plagiarized by a professor from the famous Tsinghua University (清华大学).

In an essay published in the newspaper The Economic Observer (经济观察报), Tsinghua's Professor of Sociology Sun Liping (孙立平), told two curious stories he had just read from the internet: one about the interesting character Joshua A. Norton who had proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States" and another of the "independent" Conch Republic in America.

Almost the entire content of Professor Sun's essay was to retell these two stories he just read, plus one ending paragraph stating his own reflections of the two stories. The problem is, his "retelling" was simply a "copy&paste" job, with only minor alterations of the original. Other than stating that those are the stories he just read, he did not give any source to the Horton story, but mentioning the Conch Republic story was from another magazine.

Unfortunately for Sun, the Horton story was originally written by none other than Fang Zhouzi, who believes that he was the first person to introduce that story to Chinese audience, several years ago. In fact, he provided a verbatim comparison of his original and Professor Sun's version and publicly accused Sun for plagiarism.

Facing Fang's charge, Professor published a "clarification". In it, he reaffirmed that the stories were not his own and he had failed to locate the original author of the Horton story. He apologized to Fang Zhouzi for failing of citation, but denied the plagiarism charge. He did not explain why it was not plagiarism, only saying that it would be too "heavy" a charge in this case.

It appears that Professor Sun is an honest and diligent scholar. He probably believes that, if he had properly credited Fang Zhouzi as the source, he could freely "borrow" the text from the original as well. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is extremely common in China's academia. Given that Sun is a Professor at one of the top universities in China. It's no wonder how deep and wide the practice of plagiarism could have spread in China.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Farming Graduate Students for Personal Income?

It is reported on New Threads that the dean of the College of Bioengineering at East China University of Science and Technology (华东理工大学), Professor Wei Dongzhi (魏东芝), has been advising 47 Ph. D. students and 19.5 Masters students during the school year of 2005-2006. That is, during that school year, he is advising 66.5 graduate students at the same time.

Apparently his hard-working is well rewarded. This information is obtained from a listings of the college's compensation calculations. For guiding so many graduate students, Wei received 15.53 points in this job category, which translated to 45,037 RMB ($6,000) in personal income.

Other professors in the same college are not as proficient as Wei. The professor who had the second highest points in this category only received 5.73 points, for advising 13.5 Ph.D. students and 15 Masters students.

Monday, February 18, 2008

China and Japan Lead in Plagiarism in Biomedical Journals

A recent study by a team at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found wide-spread plagiarism in research papers in Biomedical journals, available in the Medline database. The researchers used a combination of a computer search program and text-matching software to automatically survey the seven million available biomedical abstracts to find possible duplication entries, and then further identify cases of plagiarism. Their result is published in Nature, which can also be read here.

With the various statistics the study had gathered, the Nature article provided a rough breakdown of plagiarism according to original countries of the authorship:
In general, we find that the duplication rate extracted from the total Déjà vu database for each country is roughly proportional to the number of manuscripts that country contributes to Medline. The top eight contributors to Medline are the United States, Japan, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Canada, representing close to 75% of all Medline records. However, two of these countries, China and Japan, have estimated duplication rates that are roughly twice that expected for the number of publications they contribute to Medline. Perhaps the complexity of translation between different scripts, differences in ethics training and cultural norms contribute to elevated duplication rates in these two countries.
Also commenting on this result, Fang Zhouzi pointed out that this study had only covered publications in English language by Chinese authors and therefore did not reveal the whole picture of how wide spread plagiarism is in China. Should a similar study be conducted to Chinese language journals, Fang believed that the rate of plagiarism and duplication would be much higher. It was also an accepted "norm" in China that researchers publish the same results first in English journals and then its translations in Chinese journals, or vice versa.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Science Magazine Reports Disputed Research in TCM

The current issue of Science has a report titled "Lifting the Veil on Traditional Chinese Medicine". You can read Fang Zhouzi's translation, as well as the original English, here. It's about the new "Herbalome Project" in Dalian, China, a "15-year effort to identify the constituents of herbal preparations used as medications for centuries in China".

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long been an ultra-controversial issue in Fang Zhouzi's fraud-busting efforts, as he believes that TCM is a practice of pseudoscience that has detrimental side-effects to public health. For many years, he has advocated a rational approach to abolish TCM as a medical practice but examine the medicines for their true effects and side-effects (废医验药).

In this report, Fang was quoted as stating that "TCM is not based on science but based on mysticism, magic, and anecdote" and the Herbalome Project is "a waste of research funds". Reflecting the current status of TCM, the report says:
Since the Mao Zedong era, the government has strongly supported TCM, in part because it was too expensive to offer Western medicine to the masses. It remains taboo for Chinese media to label TCM as pseudoscience. "Criticizing TCM is unthinkable to many Chinese and almost like committing a traitorous act," says Fang.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fang Zhouzi's Interview with Denmark Newspaper

Fang Zhouzi had an interview with the Denmark newspaper Weekendavisen on the subject of his fraud-busting efforts. Both the English and Chinese versions are disclosed at New Thread. Here is the English version:

1) What would you consider the most important case of scientific fraud that you have helped unveil? Why was it important?

Since 2000 we have exposed about 700 cases of scientific fraud, and it will be difficult to single out the most important one. "Nucleic acid nutrition" scheme is probably the one. It was the first case that brought wide media coverage (both domestically and internationally. The prestigious Science magazine ran a special report about it). It involved more than a dozen of Chinese biochemists, who held "conference" and "hearing" to defend the scheme. After 6 years, the battle hasn't finished. Zhen-Ao Company is still advertising its "nucleic acid nutrition" products on CCTV.

2) Is scientific fraud a larger problem in China than elsewhere? Why? Is the situation improving? If so, why? If not, why not?

The problem of scientific fraud in contemporary China is so widely spread that it's a unique phenomenon, which I prefer to call it "academic corruption". It's larger than elsewhere or any other periods of China. It's the result of interactions between totalitarianism (the lack of freedoms of speech, press and academic research), extreme capitalism (try to commercialize everything, including science and education) and traditional culture (the lack of scientific spirit, the culture of saving-face, etc). The situation is somehow improving. There is awareness that this is a serious problem. Compared to 6 years ago, Chinese media are more willing to report the misconduct cases, appeal for a reform and criticize government, and have more freedom, although still very limited, to do so. And Chinese government at least admits this is a serious problems and has issued several regulations (but we are still waiting to see it take real action).

3) What are the potential consequences for China, its people and its economy, of pseudo-science being taken at face value? Are there examples of people who have lost their lives because of bad science?

It has wasted a lot of public funds. For instance, about 10 years ago, a "turning water into oil" scheme gained supports from many government officials and received several hundreds of millions of RMB funding. Recently, it's reported that a "perpetual motion machine", which we first exposed, is supported by local government to apply for 30 millions of RMB funding. When the pseudo-science is commercialized, it's a waste of consumers' money, and can also damage consumers' health if it's sold as drug or dietary supplement.

4) How do you get information about suspected cases of scientific fraud? How do you check if the allegations are correct?

The information usually is sent by email from our readers. 1) I usually don't accept anonymous submissions. The authors should let me know his or her real name and identity, although I won't leak it without his or her permission. 2) The allegation must sound reasonable, and has supporting evidence. I usually do some investigations before publishing the allegations. Most of allegations are about plagiarism and faked resume, which are easily investigated by online search. Sometimes I asked experts' opinions before publishing allegations. 3) I always welcome and publish the rebuttals from the accused and his or her supporters. If an allegation turns out to be unfounded, I will promptly clarify and apologize for it. This has happened several times. So far there is no evidence that the reputation of an innocent person has been damaged by us.

5) What is the general attitude towards your activities in the scientific community? Do Chinese scientists welcome your activities? What has, overall, been the biggest obstacle you have encountered?

I think the scientific community has a mixed feeling regarding my activities. I believe many Chinese scientists would like to live in a better and cleaner academic environment, but the fraud is so widely spread among Chinese academics that most of them have been used to it and many of them don't have clean hands. They usually welcome my activities until their own interests are in danger. Although we have exposed about 700 cases, only a small portion (about 2%) has been dealt with by authorities. Some graduate students later took the responsibility and were expelled. But the professors were rarely punished. The authorities just simply ignore our accusations or even try to cover it up. I think this is the biggest obstacle.

6) Previously, you wrote about a Beijing laboratory called the Huada Gene Research Center. According to reports, the laborary adopted a "nationalistic" approach to gene research, warning against sharing China's DNA with the outside world. Is this a view held by many in the Chinese scientific community? Why? What are the consequences of this?

Yes, I think this has something to do with nationalism, which is also very popular in the Chinese scientific community. Many frauds are committed under the veil of patriotism. China doesn't have enough resource to study her gene diversity and it's essential to have international collaborations. Nationalism can become a big obstacle of scientific development. (Small isolated populations are good targets of genetic research, and the study should be done as soon as possible because this kind of populations is disappearing)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

An Interesting Resume

Professor Zhang Yangde (张阳德) has many significant titles. He is the leader of the National Hepatobiliary & Enteric Surgery Research Center (NHEC), the National Key Laboratory of Nanobiological Technology, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering of Central South University (中南大学), the Institute of Endoscopic Medicine of Central South University, etc. Through his leadership position, he has direct control of billions RMB in research funding.

NHEC has a web site that links to Zhang's various research institutes and activities. It also has an accompanying English version. But if anyone is interested to learn about Zhang's achievements and qualifications, he/she will quickly find out that the links to Zhang's personal information, in both English and Chinese editions, all lead to a "page not found" error. It's been like that since the summer of 2007.

Before that, those links proudly led to Zhang Yangde's personal resume. During the summer, Fang Zhouzi took an interest in Zhang's resume after someone reported that Zhang had obtained a major funding in nano-biological research through improper means. Fang found Zhang's resume more than interesting and wrote a series of articles exposing Zhang's fraudulent claims in it. After that, the resume disappeared from the NHEC site (but they didn't bother to fix the links). A copy of the resume can still be seen at the bottom of Fang's article here.

Apart of obvious language mishaps, Zhang's resume has some serious issues:

The resume claimed that Zhang had obtained a Ph.D. degree in the US during the period of 1987-1991. But it did not specify where the degree was earned. According to the same resume, Zhang was working as a surgeon and professor at Central South University during the time period. It did not seem that Zhang had studied in the US at all.

Zhang's resume also listed an impressive collections of Zhang's titles:
  • Vice-President, International Endoscopist Association (USA)
  • Vice-President, US-Asian International Exchange Foundation
  • Director, Committee of Japanese Explosive Association
  • Director, Committee of International Explosive Association (USA)
  • Director, Committee of International Hepatobiliary & Enteric Surgery Association (UK)
None of these organizations seems to actively exist. They are more likely organizations registered with the sole purpose of boasting resume.

One organization that does seem to exist is the American Association of Nanoscience and Technology, which lists Professor Zhang as its Chairman. Interesting enough that here Zhang was listed as a person from the US, even though he lives and works in China. This AANST co-publishes a quarterly journal Nanoscience with Zhang's institutes in China.

Despite its official-sounding name, AANST was registered in the State of Washington in 2005 by someone named Hongbo Chen. The vast majority of articles published in Nanoscience are originated in China. The magazine boasts a big editorial board, most of them are Chinese names.
Fang Zhouzi carefully examined the non-Chinese names in the list and found a few are American medical doctors, engineers, or even real estate agents, who might have crossed paths with Zhang's previous visits to the US. None of them have expertise in nano-science at all.

Professor Zhang has maintained a dead silence since Fang's exposure, other than taking down his resume page.