Sunday, July 11, 2010

A "Success" that Could be Easily Replicated

Followers of this blog are well aware that Fang Zhouzi has been a lonely crusader in exposing scientific fraud and misconduct for over a decade. Although there had been a few cases that gained wide publicity, much of his efforts remain unknown to the general public. It is therefore somewhat ironic that it was when he occasionally wandered out of the ivory tower settings that he achieved an usually fame.

It all started with an innocent comment on the Chinese-version of twitters. When answering a question from a follower, Fang Zhouzi casually mentioned that he had been aware that the diplomatic credentials of a famous individual are most likely faked. All of a sudden, the Chinese twitter world exploded and the "news" flooded into traditional news media. In a matter of days, it became the top news in China.

The famous individual in question is Tang Jun (唐骏), a purported self-motivator who had achieved huge success in business world through his own unrelenting efforts. Tang Jun boasts an enviable resume, including the chief executive in China for Microsoft and several successful startups. Several books about his story, including a couple of his autobiography, are best sellers and he is a well-sort motivational speaker in universities and colleges. Indeed, Tang Jun is an idol for China's youth. One of his autobiographies is titled as My Success Can Be Replicated.

In various versions of his books and speeches, Tang Jun describes his experience as having earned a bachelor degree in China, a master in Japan, and a Ph.D. in USA, all while producing several inventions and starting up a few companies.

It was that Ph.D. degree in USA that caught Fang Zhouzi's eyes first. More than a year ago, in fact, Fang Zhouzi had already pointed out that Tang Jun's story could not be consistent with facts. In his online resume, Tang Jun claimed that he left Japan to pursue research in the famed California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) and then "earned a Ph.D. degree." Fang Zhouzi searched the Cal Tech database and could not find any record of Tang Jun, either as a degree recipient or an author of any published research work. Fang Zhouzi concluded that Tang Jun had lied about his degree.

After the Chinese twitter storm, Tang Jun went through several phases in his defense. He first accused Fang Zhouzi as having ulterior motives and unworthy of responding. Then he claimed that he has been misquoted in his own autobiography and that he had never implied that his Ph.D. was from Cal Tech. Finally, as most who had been exposed by Fang Zhouzi, Tang Jun threatened to sue in courts.

The story quickly takes another turn. After "clarifying" that his degree was not from CalTech, Tang Jun produced a certificate indicating that he indeed has a Ph.D. degree and it was from Pacific Western University in California.

Pacific Western University, Fang Zhouzi quickly pointed out, is a well-known "diploma mill" in the US that has been the target of various governmental and consumer complains. Such a degree certificate could be readily obtained for a fee of over $2,000 USD. Furthermore, Fang Zhouzi and his supporters provided evidence that Tang Jun's claim on his inventions and other achievements are likely to be baseless. "80% of his autobiography could be made-up," Fang Zhouzi told a newspaper.

Tang Jun insists that his degree is genuine. But he has since toned down his public defense and threats. Meanwhile, the story continues to spread, with more and more Pacific Western University degree holders are discovered, some of them occupy prominent positions in business as well as academic worlds in China. There appears to be already a flurry of activities in revising online resumes and pages to remove such degrees, while others argue that their PWU degree was earned through studying programs.

The media circus caught Fang Zhouzi himself by surprise. He hopes that he could soon return to his beloved work of writing scientific essays and paying attention more in academia rather than business world.

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