Open letter in support of Chuan-Guo Xiao, M.D. from theInternational Academic CommunitySeptember 29, 2010To all,We have all had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Chuan-Guo Xiao for many years. He is an internationally respected surgeon-scientist who has made major advances in the development of neuroregeneration to restore voiding and bowel function. Dr. Xiao performed groundbreaking animal research in the United States, demonstrating that a motor nerve that innervates the leg can be used to reinnervate the bladder and bowel. This reinnervation allows for development of a reflex to initiate bladder function. The results of his studies were published in peer-reviewed journals and other scientists have replicated Xiao’s findings confirming these results.Dr. Xiao eventually took the courageous step of moving from animal research to human studies and began performing the rerouting procedure on patients with spinal cord injury and spina bifida in China. Neurogenic bladder is life threatening in China due to a lack of both antimuscarinics and intermittent catheterization, and lessening the complications of neurogenic bladder would be considered a lifesaving success. Patients with neurogenic bladder and bowel suffer greatly and endure a host of issues such as urinary retention, incontinence, recurrent infections, renal insufficiency, fecal incontinence, constipation, and poor quality of life. For a procedure as complicated as nerve rerouting requiring nerve regeneration, one cannot expect normalization of bladder and bowel function to be the definition of success. What is important is that the benefits outweigh the risks of the procedure.Dr. Xiao published his clinical results in peer-reviewed journals and was twice honored by the Jack Lapides Essay Contest, one of the most respected international awards given to scientists who make major contributions to the field of neurourology. In 2008, he was named the Kelm Hjalmas Memorial Lecturer from the International Children’s Continence Society for his scientific achievements. Many of us have traveled to China to examine patients treated by Dr. Xiao and/or have been trained by him in the nerve rerouting surgery he invented. Dr. Xiao is a very skilled surgeon who is passionate about patient care and works tirelessly to train physicians around the world in performing his nerve rerouting procedure.In the United States, an independent and very rigorous pilot research trial was performed to test the safety and efficacy of this procedure. The one-year results were recently published in the Journal of Urology. At the 12-month follow-up visit, a cutaneous to bladder reflex was found in 7 of 9 spina bifida patients, confirming that rerouting does occur. This finding by itself is remarkable and Dr. Xiao should be commended. In addition, a number of patients demonstrated improvement in bladder and bowel function, which has continued to improve with longer patient follow-up.The 36-month results are currently being analyzed and will be reported in the near future. The pilot data was supportive of Dr. Xiao’s procedure, and now an NIH sponsored clinical trial is being conducted to further study lumbar to sacral nerve rerouting in spina bifida patients. In addition, similar procedures have been done worldwide, with Dr. Xiao helping to mentor the surgeons at each site.The Chinese people and government should be proud of Dr. Xiao for his dedication to his patients, his scientific achievements, and his willingness to train doctors around the world how to perform his surgery. The International scientific community was shocked to hear of Dr. Xiao’s arrest. Those of us who know Dr. Xiao well find it difficult to believe that he is involved in these attacks.Dr. Xiao is a compassionate man who is respected worldwide for his integrity and his innovative scientific contributions to society. We implore the Chinese government and authorities to treat Dr. Xiao fairly and to protect his human rights as these charges are investigated. Please strongly consider Dr. Xiao’s scientific and humanitarian contributions to the world as facts are gathered in this case.Sincerely,Kenneth M. Peters, MDProfessor and Chairman of UrologyBeaumont HospitalRoyal Oak, Michigan USAJack S. Elder, M.D.Chief of Urology, Henry Ford Health SystemAssociate Director, Vattikuti Urology InstituteDepartment of Urology,Children's Hospital of MichiganDetroit, MI USAEdwin A. Smith M.D.Assistant Clinical Professor of UrologyEmory University School of MedicineAtlanta, Georgia USAKevin M. Feber, MD, FAAPBeaumont Children's HospitalRoyal Oak, MI USAAnanias C. Diokno, M.D., F.A.C.S.Executive Vice President & CMOBeaumont HospitalRoyal Oak, Michigan 48073 USAJuan José de BenitoUrologistHospital Nacional de ClínicasCórdoba, Argentina.William E. Nantau B.Sc., CNIMClinical ManagerClinical Neurophysiology DepartmentBeaumont Hospital Royal Oak, MI USAEvan J Kass MD,FACS,FAAPChief, Division of Pediatric UrologyBeaumont Childrens HospitalProfessor of Urology, Oakland University-WilliamBeaumont School of MedicineUSAJacques Corcos MD.Professor of Urology, McGill UniversityGeneral Secretary of the International ContinenceSocietyJewish General hospital3755 Cote Ste-CatherineMontreal, Quebec, Canada H3T 1E2Jose Gonzalez, M.D.Department of UrologyBeaumont HospitalRoyal Oak, Michigan USAChristopher Payne, MDAssociate Professor of UrologyStanford University Medical SchoolStanford, CA 94305-5118 USAKenneth I. Glassberg, MDDirector, Division of Pediatric UrologyMorgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-PresbyterianProfessor of Urology, Columbia UniversityCollege of Physicians and Surgeons3959 Broadway, CHN 1118 NY USAEarl Y. Cheng, MDAssociate Professor of UrologyChildren’s Memorial HospitalChicago, Illinois USADarius J. Bagli, MDCMProfessor of SurgerySenior Associate ScientistDirector of Urology ResearchDivisions of Urology andDevelopmental & Stem Cell BiologyThe Hospital For Sick ChildrenInstitute of Medical ScienceUniversity of TorontoHenri B. LOTTMANN, MD, FEBU, FEBPS,FRCS(england) FEBPUPaediatric urology unitHopital Necker-Enfants-Malades149, rue de Sèvres75015 Paris, FranceDr. Amrish Vaidya MS. MCh.Consultant Paediatric Surgeon,Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital,4 Bungalows, Andheri W, Mumbai, IndiaMarc Cendron, MDAssociate Professor in UrologyHarvard Medical SchoolChildren’s Hospital BostonBoston, MA USAStuart B. Bauer, MDAssociate Director, NeurourologyProfessor of UrologyHarvard Medical SchoolChildren’s Hospital BostonBoston, MA USAEdmond T. Gonzales, Jr., MDProfessor of UrologyBaylor College of MedicineHouston TX USARichard Macchia, MD FACSSUNY Distinguished Teaching ProfessorCleveland Clinic, FloridaBenjamin Girdler, MDUrology Center of the RockiesFort Collins, Colorado USAWilliam C. de Groat, Ph.D.Professor of PharmacologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburgh, PA USAMichael R. Ruggieri, Sr., Ph.D.Director of Urologic ResearchTemple University School of MedicinePhiladelphia, PA USAStanley J Kogan MDChief, Pediatric UrologyChildren's Hospital at MontefioreBronx NY USAAnthony Caldamone, MDUniversity Urologic Associates, Inc.2 Dudley St Ste 185Providence, RI 02905 USAYves Homsy MD, FRCSC, FAAPClinical Professor of Urological Surgery andPediatricsUniversity of South FloridaChildren's Urology Group5507 E. Longboat BlvdTampa FL 33615 USADr. Enrique TurinaProfessor of urology of the National University ofBuenos AiresChief of section Urology of Instituto deRehabilitaciónGovernment of Buenos Aires, Argentina.Dr. Angel OzónUrologist of the Instituto de Rehabilitación of BuenosAiresDr. Daniel EkizianUrologist of Instituto de Rehabilitación.Professor Dr. med. Karl-Dietrich SievertVice ChairProf. of Urology, Director - Uro-oncology,Neurourology, Incontinence, & ReconstructiveUrologyDepartment of Urology University of TuebingenD72076 Tuebingen, GermanyHolly Gilmer, MDChief of Pediatric NeurosurgeryBeaumont HospitalRoyal Oak, Michigan USAYegappan Lakshmanan, MDChief, Pediatric UrologyChildren’s Hospital of MichiganDetroit, MI USA
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Exactly one year ago, Hollywood celebrities were busy writing appealing letters on behalf of Roman Polanski, a movie director who was convicted for child rape. A couple of years earlier, a world-renowned scientist, William French Anderson, might have his sentence for molestation reduced because of supporting letters from his colleagues, including a Nobel Laureate.
Today, 31 internationally-renowned scholars, most of whom are accepting fundings for experiments on Xiao's Procedure, issued an open letter supporting Dr. Xiao Chuanguo, who had confessed to the hideous crime of masterminding two brutal attacks on an investigative reporter and a free-lance writer who had worked to expose his fraud.
The common thread of these letters is that their authors pay little or no regards to the horrible injuries caused by the perpetrators, in the name that the criminals or suspects had previous made valuable contributions to the society and therefore somehow should be judged more than mere citizens. Where are the moral standards?
In addition, this particular letter once again states the Beaumont Hospital result has confirmed that "[nerve] rerouting does occur," without even a mention of the critical comments by their peers published in the same issue of the Journal of Urology. Where is scholastic honesty?
To those protected elites who never fail to protect one of their own, where is the shame?
Below is the open letter, in its entire glory:
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The following is a news report by Nature on September 29, 2010.
The story incorrectly identified this blog as Dr. Fang Shimin's web site. The correct web site is at http://www.xys.org and is in Chinese. Dr. Fang is not personally involved in this blog.
Brawl in Beijing
Critics of Chinese researchers targeted in physical attacks
Science can be a rough game in China. On 29 August, on his way home from a tea house in Beijing, Fang Shimin was assaulted. The former biochemist — who for the past decade has run a website exposing scientific fraudsters — was chased by two men, caught and attacked with a hammer.
"I believe they planned to kill me," he says. "The only way to shut me up is to kill me." He escaped with only minor cuts and bruises. In June, Fang Xuanchang, a journalist who had reported on corruption in science in China, was left with more serious injuries after two men assaulted him with steel rods.
On 21 September, police arrested Xiao Chuanguo, a urologist at Tongji Medical College in Wuhan, on suspicion of master minding both plots. Xiao could not be reached for comment, but has confessed his involvement to Beijing's police. Fang Shimin says Xiao could face 3–10 years in prison — or more if the charges become attempted murder.
Xiao and Fang Shimin have never met or spoken, but their paths have crossed on the Internet — and in court. Xiao's clash with him, and with Fang Xuanchang, revolves around a surgical procedure devised by Xiao that aims to restore bladder and bowel function in patients with spina bifida or spinal-cord injuries. Xiao reported an impressive 87% success rate for the operation, which involves re-routing nerves[1,2]. In 2005, he was nominated for membership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the elite body of the Chinese scientific world.
Following his nomination, people started posting questions about Xiao's claims on Fang Shimin's website (http://fangzhouzi-xys.blogspot.com). Then in September 2005, Fang Shimin published an essay in Beijing Sci–Tech Report, which said that Xiao was not an associate professor at New York University as he states in his CV, but only an assistant professor. Furthermore, the article said that only 4 of the 26 English-language publications Xiao listed were journal articles — the rest being abstracts from conference proceedings.
It is not known if Fang Shimin's article affected the academy's decision, but Xiao was not made a member and has since sued Fang Shimin for libel five times. Fang Shimin, whose site has been criticized for giving contributors a platform for unjustified attacks on their enemies, lost one case and won two, with the other two undecided. Meanwhile, criticism of the 'Xiao procedure' has continued. Last year, Fang Xuanchang published a series of articles questioning its efficacy, which may have prompted the attacks on him.
Beijing-based lawyer Peng Jian says he has interviewed 20–30 patients who have experienced side effects after undergoing the Xiao procedure, and who are seeking compensation. This summer, the first US trial of the treatment reported ambiguous results in The Journal of Urology, and two journal editorials said it should be considered experimental.
Fang Shimin, meanwhile, is unfazed by the attack. "It won't stop me," he says. "I will continue to do what I am doing."
1. Xiao, C.-G. Proc. Int. Conf. Urol. Shanghai, 2–4 July (2005).
2. Xiao, C.-G. Eur. Urol. 49, 22-29 (2006).
3. Cyranoski, D. Nature 441, 392-393 (2006).
4. Peters, K. M. et al. J. Urol. 184, 702-708 (2010).
Monday, September 27, 2010
Professor Xiao Chuanguo first surfaced in the world internet forums some time near the turn of the centry. But nobody knew him then -- He was posting under a pseudonym "Confused Professor" (昏教授). Around the same time, Fang Zhouzi was starting his efforts in exposing scientific fraud in China. "Confused Professor" took an interest in Fang Zhouzi's actions and decided that he didn't like what he saw. He posted a few articles criticizing Fang Zhouzi.
In 2001, Fang Zhouzi published a popular science essay in a newspaper in China, introducing some recent research results to the general public. "Confused Professor" reported it to Science, which carried the original study, as a case of plagiarism. Science responded that it was not plagiarism because Fang Zhouzi "neither implied that the work was his own by writing in the first person nor directly copied the language in the Science paper." Nevertheless, "Confused Professor" and his followers continued to propagate the myth that Fang Zhouzi had committed plagiarism.
Fast forward to the fall of 2005, "Confused Professor" was revealed to be Professor Xiao Chuanguo, then in the process of moving back to China from his post in New York and applying to become a member of the prestigeous Chinese Academy of Science. Alerted netters wrote to New Threads suggesting that Xiao Chuanguo had been mispresenting his resume in his application. On September 21, 2005, Fang Zhouzi publised an essay in Beijing Science and Technology summarizing the charges, questioning Xiao Chuanguo's claims of his academic status, number of publications and that he had invented a world-famous "Xiao's Procedure" (At that time, the term "Xiao's Procedure" had only existed in Xiao Chuanguo's own tellings).
In October, Xiao Chuanguo sued Fang Zhouzi and the newspapers that carried the articles.
May, 2006, as Fang Zhouzi's efforts were exposing more scientific fraud in China, 120 Chinese scholars, mostly biologists based in US, published an open letter calling for a stop of such public investigation in the name of protecting scientists' reputations.
That June, Xiao Chuanguo also published an open letter of his own, attacking Fang Zhouzi personally and swore that "this must be revenged!" He followed that up by launching a series of libel suits against Fang Zhouzi.
On July 31, 2006, a local court in Wuhan reached verdict on the very first Xiao Chuanguo vs. Fang Zhouzi case. The court decided in favor of Xiao Chuanguo, employing some very convoluted logic. Fang Zhouzi denounced it as a practice of local protectionism and vowed to defy any penalty ruling.
That very same day, an open letter supporting Fang Zhouzi began circulating. Over a hundred people signed up right away. The number of signatures eventually reached over 600.
September 5, 2006, Xiao Chuanguo launched another lawsuit against Fang Zhouzi, this time in Beijing, challenging Fang Zhouzi's assertion of local protectionism in Wuhan, where Xiao Chuanguo lived and worked. Also in that September, Rao Yi, then a professor at Northwestern University in US, published a friend-of-court style essay criticizing Xiao Chuanguo. In China, Professor Qing Chenrui (the wife of Professor He Zuoxiu) also published an open letter supporting Fang Zhouzi.
By November that year, escalation continued. Xiao Chuanguo launched another round of lawsuits, this time in New York against Rao Yi, Fang Zhouzi, and New Threads. (Rao Yi's insurance company in US eventually settled on his behalf.)
In China, Professor He Zuoxiu and Fang Zhouzi's lawyer Peng Jian established a Fund in support Fang Zhouzi, who at that time was also facing several other lawsuits in addition to those by Xiao Chuanguo. Overseas, The Organization of Scientific and Academic Integrity in China was also formed to collect donations supporting Fang Zhouzi's cause. Science reported thusly, "China's Fraud Buster Hit by Libel Judgements; Defenders Rally Round"
March, 2007, Xiao Chuanguo, together with other plaintiffs against Fang Zhouzi, issued a public threat to all signatories of the open letter supporing Fang Zhouzi, vowing to sue every person who did not publicly rennounce their signatures. Within that month, Fang Zhouzi lost most of those cases in several courts. He once again pledged to defy the judgements.
But then on May 28, 2007, Beijing Intermediate Court reached a verdict in Fang Zhouzi's favor, a first court victory of its kind.
After that, the dispute seems to have died down for a couple of years until August 2009 when Xiao Chuanguo boasted on Internet that he had received a court-issued fine from Fang Zhouzi. It was news to the latter. It was then that Fang Zhouzi discovered that his wife's bank account had been raided by the Wuhan court without their knowledge. (Fang Zhouzi and his wife had a prenuptial agreement that separates their finances.) His appeal was denied by the court.
In the months of October through December of 2009, a couple of Chinese newspapers, led by science reporter Fang Xuanchang, published a series of investigative findings exposing the ineffectiveness of the Xiao's Procedure and its severe side effects. Lawyer Peng Jian announced lawsuits to seek damages from the surgery.
February, 2010, A group of volunteers of New Threads collected documented materials and published an open letter questioning the Xiao's Procedure. The letter was sent to several institions and hospitals involved in clinical trials of the procedure in US.
August, 2010, the first clinial trial result of Xiao's Procedure from Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, US, was published in Journal of Urology. The journal also published sharply critical comments.
June 24, 2010, reporter Fang Xuanchang was brutally attacked by two thugs on his way home. He suffered serious head injuries and barely escaped.
August 29, 2010, Fang Zhouzi was attacked in daylight in a similar mannar. Fortunately he was able to escape with only minor injuries.
September 20, 2010, Xiao Chuanguo was arrested and identified as the mastermind behind both attacks.
Friday, September 24, 2010
After retracting an influential paper from Nature a year and half ago, Nobel laureate Linda Buck is now retracting two more papers from Science and PNAS, respectively, as they have failed to reproduce the findings in these papers. All three papers were first-authored by Zou Zhihua (邹志华), a Chinese researcher who worked as a postdoc for Buck from 1997 to 2005.
In 2008, Zou wrote in a statement provided by UTMB [University of Texas Medical Branch] that he was "disappointed" by the Nature retraction, he "declined to sign" the Science retraction, as reported online today in Science. But "we have no information to suspect misconduct," Natasha Pinol, senior communications officer at the AAAS/Science Office of Public Programs, told The Scientist in an email.In addition to the irreproducible results, the PNAS paper also contained "figures inconsistent with original data," according to the FHCRC statement. While the PNAS retraction is "not embargoed," according to Managing Editor Daniel Salsbury, the journal refused to share any information with The Scientist.
Zou Zhihua is reported to be currently in China and unavailable to comment.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
The following is a report by Science on September 23, 2010.
Urologist Arrested for Attacks on Chinese Whistleblowers
by Hao Xin
BEIJING—The police bureau here announced Tuesday evening that they have detained the suspected mastermind behind assaults on China's science misconduct watchdog Fang Shimin (aka Fang Zhouzi) and journalist Fang Xuanchang. (The two Fangs are not related.)
Earlier on 21 September, police detained Xiao Chuanguo, chief urology surgeon at the Tongji Hospital affiliated with Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, after Xiao returned from a trip to Argentina. According to a Beijing police report published online, Xiao believed that the Fangs' muckraking investigation of his academic achievements resulted in his failure to be elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Chinese media have reported that, according to a police briefing, Xiao paid about $15,000 to a distant relative, who allegedly arranged the assaults on Fang Xuanchang in June and Fang Zhouzi in August. Police took the relative and two accomplices into custody earlier this month.
The bone of contention between Xiao and the Fangs is a surgical procedure Xiao developed that he claimed can help patients with spinal cord injury and spina bifida to restore some control over bladder and bowl movements. After seeing material supporting Xiao's nomination as member of CAS in 2005, Fang Zhouzi asserted on his Web site, New Threads, that Xiao's procedure was not nearly as internationally famous as Xiao claimed and alleged that Xiao exploited the Chinese public's inability to access information in English to inflate his achievement. Xiao sued Fang for libel in a Wuhan court and won in 2006, but attempts to sue Fang in Beijing courts failed.
Last December, while working for the biweekly Chinese Science News, Fang Xuanchang edited a series of investigative reports on Xiao's procedure, which has been performed on thousands of Chinese patients, according to Xiao. Before the Ministry of Health in May 2009 issued regulations banning the clinical application of unproven and controversial medical procedures such as stem cell therapy, some Chinese hospitals peddled experimental procedures to make more money. It's not clear whether Xiao's procedure falls in the banned category, but no clinical trials have been conducted in China to prove its efficacy. Many prospective patients were enticed by the touted 85% success rate. Since publication of the investigative reports, however, "the number of patients seeking treatment has fallen sharply," says Jia Hepeng, editor-in-chief of Chinese Science News.
The procedure also caught the attention of Kenneth Peters, director of urology research at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, who launched a phase II clinical trial at his hospital (see also an Associated Press report). Trial results have not been published. Peters also obtained two grants from the National Institute of Health to study the safety and efficacy of the procedure for treating spina bifida patients. According to a description in his grant proposal, preliminary results show that seven out of nine patients who received the treatment have shown improvements. Peters did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
Xiao could not be reached for comment. His employer, HUST, yesterday issued an online statement that said the university was shocked by the police investigation into Xiao's alleged crime of intentional injury to others. The statement says that the university will follow the case closely and take appropriate action once the judicial system renders its verdict.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
A day after the Beijing police arrested Xiao Chuanguo, a few details of the case and its investigation started to emerge publicly.
After the attack on Fang Zhouzi gained much publicity, both local and city police allocated a large amount of resources to investigate the case. They interviewed close to a thousand people in the area and identified a couple of eyewitnesses. They were also able to retrieve a surveillance video footage showing a man following Fang Zhouzi right before the attack.
Within days from the attack, police was already able to identify the man in the video as 32-year-old Xu Lichun (许立春). Further surveillance on Xu Lichun then led police to his co-suspect Long Guangxing (龙光兴) and Dai Jianxiang (戴建湘). After they were comprehended, Dai Jianxiang, a distant relative of Xiao Chuanguo's, confessed that Xiao Chuanguo paid him 100,000 RMB (14,000 USD) to "teach Fang Zhouzi and Fang Xuanchang a lesson". Dai Jianxiang then offered half of that money to Xu Lichun and Long Guangxing to do the dirty work.
Xiao Chuanguo himself was abroad at the time of these arrests, so the crack of the case was kept secret for days, until police was able to arrest Xiao Chuanguo on his return at the Shanghai Airport yesterday.
The attack itself was more dangerous than it had previous thought. Fang Zhouzi escaped thanks in part to a comical error committed by the perpetrators. The attack was designed to have Xu Lichun confront Fang Zhouzi head on with pepper juice and an iron hammer while Long Guangxing hit with a steel rod behind Fang Zhouzi's back at the same time. Fortunately, Fang Zhouzi ducked quickly enough that the majority of the pepper juice landed on Long Guangxing's face instead, neutralizing that sneak attack. Fang Zhouzi was then able to run away. Xu Lichun chased and threw his hammer to him a couple of times. He managed to hit Fang Zhouzi on the back once but only caused minor injuries.
Various news reports indicate that all suspects, including the mastermind Xiao Chuanguo himself, had already confessed their criminal actions to police.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Beijing Police Bureau announced last night that they have cracked the case of Fang Zhouzi's assault. They identified Xiao Chuanguo, the professor who pioneered the controversial "Xiao's Procedure" and a long-time target of Fang Zhouzi's fraud exposure, as the mastermind behind the attack. Xiao Chuanguo and three other suspects are currently detained by the police.
Police also said that they had uncovered iron hammers and steel pipes, tools that were used in separate previous attacks on Fang Zhouzi and Fang Xuanchang.
Fang Zhouzi first exposed Xiao Chuanguo's misconducts in 2005 for lying about his resume. Xiao Chuanguo launched a series of law suits against Fang Zhouzi. Later, Fang Zhouzi further questioned the effectiveness of the "Xiao's Procedure," a charge that has also led to court cases in China and apparently supported by a recent clinical trial result.
The police will have further details as they continue their investigation.
Friday, September 10, 2010
In a recent correspondence to Nature magazine, Yuehong Zhang reports the finding of wide-spread plagiarism at a science journal in China. Here is the abstract:
Since October 2008, we have detected unoriginal material in a staggering 31% of papers submitted to the Journal of Zhejiang University–Science (692 of 2,233 submissions). The publication, designated as a key academic journal by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, was the first in China to sign up for CrossRef's plagiarism-screening service CrossCheck.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The following is a report by TIME magazine:
In China, the Bad News for Reporters Gets Worse
By Austin Ramzy / Beijing Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010
When the man on the Beijing street sprayed something that smelled like ether onto his face, Fang Shimin had a pretty good idea what would come next. So he ran. Another man began chasing him with a metal hammer. The assailant swung and missed, then threw the hammer at Fang as he fled, grazing him on the back. Fang kept running and escaped the Aug. 29 attack with minor injuries.
Fang is a freelance journalist who has come to be known in China as the "science cop," specializing in exposing plagiarism, dodgy scientific claims and fraudulent résumés of prominent figures. He has recently felt his work would eventually cause one of his subjects to lash out. "I think the hit men were hired by someone whose fraud had been exposed by me," he says by e-mail. "I've received threatening phone calls and e-mails, and was followed and threatened before."
China has long been an unfriendly place for journalists. Publications face stringent government censorship, and reporters and editors who push the boundaries can be demoted or sacked. The nation leads the world in jailing journalists for their work, with 24 in prison last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And it ranks near the bottom of the annual index of press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy group. (Last year it was placed 168th out of 175 countries and territories.)
But two attacks on journalists in Beijing this summer serve as a reminder that the threats to the press can extend beyond censorship to outright violence. Two months before Fang Shimin was chased down the street, Fang Xuanchang, an editor at Caijing magazine, was struck repeatedly by two men wielding metal bars while walking near his house on June 24. He sustained a long gash to the back of his head that had to be stitched at a local hospital.
Fang Shimin says he thought both attacks were related to the men's work. After Fang Xuanchang was attacked, "it was apparent that I would be the next target," Fang Shimin says. The two men are acquaintances and sometime collaborators. Scientific charlatanry is one of their main interests, and the Wild West nature of China's booming economy has given them no shortage of material. Beginning with his time at Chinese publications Science News and China Newsweek, Fang Xuanchang had exposed multiple quack doctors who promoted dubious cures for everything from cancer to incontinence.
Fang Shimin, who writes under the pen name Fang Zhouzi, grew up in coastal Fujian province and studied biology, receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Michigan State University in 1995. He created his New Threads blog as a grad student, originally to focus on literature and creative writing. When he returned to China in the late 1990s, Fang says he was shocked by the popularity of "pseudo sciences and superstitions." He eventually changed the subject of his blog to combat the trend and promote science. "In an ideal world, some more formal and organized watchdogs ... professional organizations or a governmental agency would be in place," he says. "But China does not have these, so individual watchdogs become essential."
Recently, Fang Shimin has questioned the résumé of Tang Jun, CEO of the conglomerate New Huadu Industrial Group, which stated that Tang graduated from the prestigious California Institute of Technology. Tang later said that claim had been promoted by others, and he had in fact received a Ph.D. from the Pacific Western University. But Fang investigated further and noted that school was an unaccredited institution that the U.S. Government Accountability Office called a diploma mill. Just before he was attacked, Fang Shimin had done a television interview on the case of Li Yi, a popular Taoist master who claimed to have supernatural powers that were later found to have been faked. Li was investigated for allegedly raping a former student, though police say those charges are unfounded.
Li Datong, former editor of Freezing Point, a groundbreaking supplement to the China Youth Daily newspaper, says that journalists like Fang Shimin, a.k.a. Fang Zhouzi, are "hard to come by in Chinese society." Aside from the pressures of censorship, low-paid Chinese journalists are often tempted by "red packets" — cash payments from businesspeople and officials meant to buy positive coverage. That leaves a lot of opportunity — and responsibility — for journalists like Fang who are willing to confront vested interests. "Fang Zhouzi touches upon power and business and the officials who support those businesses, because with any business, behind it there are officials in support," says Li. "So it's a matter of facing up to power. Chinese media, generally speaking, don't do a good job of this."
Facing up to power brings risk. Beijing police are investigating both journalists' attacks, but so far have made no arrests. The unresolved cases contribute to a climate of fear facing investigative journalists and whistle-blowers. "I will continue what I am doing," says Fang Shimin. "And of course I will take some security measures." But for other Chinese journalists facing similar risks pursuing a sensitive story, the best security measure, unfortunately, might be to ignore it.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
The following is a translation of an essay by Fang Zhouzi. The essay was originally composed about two years ago. In light of the recent attack, Fang Zhouzi decided to revise and publish it in the September 1's issue of China Youth Daily. You can read the original Chinese version here.
Morality in my Heart, Science in my Mind
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant ended his Critique of Practical Reason with a famous quote that was later carved into his tombstone: "Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."
But the ability of an individual mind is extremely limited, even the intellectual giants are no exception. At the time of Kant, such inquiry often produced even bigger confusion and eventually led to the belief in some kind of mysterious, supernatural force which could be used to conclude the thinking once and for all. Because he could not resolve the issue of "First Cause" in planetary motion, Issac Newton reserved a spot for God there. Although Kant did not allow God to move the planets, he nevertheless believed that the existence of moral laws proved the existence of God, regarding God as the personification of all things kind.
Of course all such arguments have now run their course. Modern science has been discovering nature's secrets, in which there is no place for God. Science is still unable to answer many questions. And because of the limitation in human cognitive ability, it is impossible to answer all questions. But science is indeed the most reliable method of inquiry that is known to man. If science cannot provide an answer, there is no reason to believe that a reliable answer could be obtained through any other means. Leaving unknown or unsolvable issues to God and immortal is nothing but laziness. Yet morality and justice has always been present in the history written with blood. It is the crystallization of the long struggle by numerous lofty and courageous people. It originates from the necessity of human survival, happiness, and progress, and therefore no need for the assumption of God. If there were indeed an almighty God, the world would not see so much evil. But it is also because the presence of so much evil, morality and justice is so valuable.
Under the starry heavens, the human body is miniscule; yet science enables us to reach every corner of the universe. In the course of history, the human life is short; yet morality and justice can allow our spirit melting into the historical process and achieve longevity. As long as there is morality in our hearts and science in our minds, we will not lose our ways or waste our time within our short lifespan. Morality is the starlight shining from the edge of the heaven, science is the flashlight that leads our way. Morality and justice gives us ideals and passion; science bestows us with rationality and the appreciation in the importance of evidence. "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." This quote of Albert Einstein has been misinterpreted by numerous people who are not aware of its context, mistaking it as Einstein's support for traditional religion. But the "religion" referred to by Einstein here is not of its common meaning, but a passion and determination in pursuing truth. We could revise this famous quote to become: Science without morality is lame. Morality without science is blind. If there is neither science nor morality, we would all become the living dead.
It is from such a belief that I have remained deeply interested in both science and humanity since my middle school years. This is evident from the pen name I have been using. In ancient times, two boats sailing in parallel is called a "FangZhou", and "FangZhouzi" is a person who stands astride on two boats at the same time. "It's such a joy to sail two boats like one." My dream is therefore to sail the dual boats of science and humanity simultaneously and taste the happiness of all the intellectual and lofty people ancient and today, home and abroad. When I was working in scientific research, I spent all my spare time studying and writing about literature and history. After I left my scientific research career, my writings then mainly concentrated on science. In the last decade or so, I became famous by exposing scientific fraud and corruption, so much so that many people mistakenly thought I couldn't or shouldn't do anything other than writing to debunk fraud. Actually, the socalled debunking is only an impulse of mine from witnessing injustice. It is not my main interest. Yet to me, such injustice is a betrayal of science and morality. When necessary, I am willing to defend my belief, even if I must pay the price of blood. But in other ordinary times, I would much rather pass on my belief, hope to propagate science and morality deeper and longer.
Nobody could become the personification of science and morality. But every person can become the defender and propagator of science and morality, as long as you are willing and possess ability and courage.
My dear readers, in these dark days, let us look up to the starlight of morality, ignite the lights of science, hold our hands and march on together, and persevere.