Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fang Zhouzi's Interview on Xinmin Weekly

Recently, Fang Zhouzi had an interview with the Shanghai newspaper Xinmin Weekly, summarizing his thought on the current status of the integrity issues in China. Here is a rough and partial translation of the interview:

Q: Your "For the Record" site has opened almost ten years, your book Ulcer has also been published for eight years now. But ... in these one to two years, more and more incidences of fabricated papers being exposed. Does this prove that the amount of scientific misconduct is getting worse in China? Is the problem more serious here than in other countries?

Fang Zhouzi: It's only because the media is paying more attention now. It can't prove that the misconduct has gotten worse. My own feeling is that, the most serious period is perhaps a few years ago. In more recent years, we have had media attention and a few disciplinary cases, some people were deterred and cases of scientific misconduct showed a downward trend. But the problem is still more serious here than in other countries. It is wide-spread and multi-faceted. So, I would rather called it corruption.

Q: Why do students plagiarize in their degree dissertations?

Fang Zhouzi: There are several reasons for this. One is that we have problems in our education. Students did not receive proper teaching in scientific behavior and ethics. Rather, they were led to believe that "all papers were copies" (天下文章一大抄). Students in elementary and middle schools were encouraged to copy sample articles while doing their compositions. Another aspect is that the teachers have problems. They have too many students and social activities to pay attention to their students. Or they don't have sufficient research abilities themselves to provide guidance to their students. Some teachers are plagiarizers themselves and their students are just following examples. Another reason is the dissertation standard system. Undergraduate students usually have no time or ability to do research, it is not necessary for them to write dissertations for a degree. If you force them to do it, you are making them to plagiarize. It is unnecessary to impose a hard limit on the time to complete a dissertation for a Ph. D. degree. If/when the research did not pan out, and the student could not complete the dissertation on time, you are then force them to plagiarize.

Q: Some colleges are now using software to detect plagiarism in students' dissertations, what do you think of it?

Fang Zhouzi: This kind of software is only a supplementary tool for detecting plagiarism but can not be a standard itself. Whether a paper is plagiarized needs to be judged by human. Some schools put a standard that it is only plagiarism when the software finds more than 30% in similarities. That is ridiculous. What about 10% or 20% in the most important passages? In fact, if just a few sentences are copied, it is plagiarism.

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