Monday, May 22, 2006

When Chinese Politics and Science Collide

Just when U.S. universities are pushing to form alliances with their counterparts in China, accusations of scientific fraud are zinging across the Middle Kingdom. Beijing's determination to make China a scientific superpower seems to have created a Wild West climate where top researchers, under intense pressure to produce, are tempted to fake results or copy the works of others. Amidst charges and countercharges -- some of them spurious -- scientists worry that a witch hunt is starting up that could besmirch the credible research along with the suspect.

The outcry reached a crescendo on May 12, when Shanghai Jiaotong University announced the firing of star professor Chen Jin for allegedly faking research on computer chips. Chen is just one in a crowd of academics accused of everything from falsifying or plagiarizing results to embellishing resumes. While some have lost their jobs, ``there are many, many known cases where the academics are still in senior positions,'' says Yuen Ying Chan, a University of Hong Kong professor and dean of the journalism program at Shantou University in Guangdong province.

One of the leading Chinese whistle-blowers is biochemist Shi-min Fang. He runs a highly influential Chinese-language Web site ( that details charges of fraud and abuse among China's scientists. Since his site launched in 2000, he claims to have exposed 500 cases of illegal or unethical behavior. ``Misconduct is so widespread among Chinese academics that they have almost become used to it,'' Fang said in an e-mail exchange. ``They don't think it's a big deal at all.'' [emphasis added]

The turmoil comes at a particularly embarrassing time for President Hu Jintao. He and other leaders have been flogging their vision of China as an economy that relies on high-end innovation more than low-cost manufacturing. To realize this brains-based future, Communist Party leaders urge scientists to seize the leading edge of nanotechnology, stem cell research, and other emerging fields.

Such ambitious goals may be inspiring the unethical behavior.

Read the rest here.

When politics and science collide, it's often a very messy picture. Climatology and the Bush administration and now the PRC's leadership's goals and Chinese Academia in general.

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