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The Media Science

China's Research Ambitions Hurt By Faked Results 338

Posted by kdawson
from the science-fiction dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "AP reports that plagiarizing or faking results is so rampant in Chinese academia that some experts worry it could hinder China's efforts to become a leader in science. China's state-run media recently rejoiced over reports that China publishes more papers in international journals than any other country except the US; but not all the research stands up to scrutiny. In December, a British journal retracted 70 papers from a Chinese university, all by the same two lead scientists, saying the work had been fabricated, and expressing amazement that a fake crystal structure would be submitted for publication. 'Academic fraud, misconduct and ethical violations are very common in China,' said professor Rao Yi, dean of the life sciences school at Peking University. 'It is a big problem.' Last month the Education Ministry released guidelines for forming a 35-member watchdog committee and has asked universities to get tough but Rao remains skeptical. Government ministries are happy to fund research but not to police it, Rao says. 'The authorities don't want to be the bad guy.'"
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China's Research Ambitions Hurt By Faked Results

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  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:34AM (#31893276)

    Let's clear this up...

    In China, the government grants are almost entirely political, and you're not fighting for tenure; tenure doesn't exist. Likely, you get your grants through your department head (who goes on all your papers). Essentially, your job is like a western stock trader. You have a job at the University, and maybe it pays well, maybe it doesn't. You get paid a bonus based on papers you publish. The higher the index of the journal you publish in, the higher your bonus. Those bonuses make up the majority of the salary for many scientists.

    Unlike in the west, if you're caught cheating, there are no automatic, immediate consequences. It's very much like stock trading here, with similar ethics and results.

  • by robotkid (681905) <alanc2052&yahoo,com> on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:56AM (#31893362)

    Perhaps the scientist's cheating is a response to their government's insane minimum requirements for the number of publications a scientist with a government grant must have. I don't know, though. This is just a hypothesis.

    That's actually not too far off the mark. The official salary of any government researcher is, well, well below what someone of equivalent schooling could have gotten in business or IT (as in most countries, only moreso). However, the government is pumping major sums of money at institutions that publish frequently, such that most researchers are paid hefty bonuses on a "per publication" basis by their home institution, usually a smaller amount for chinese-language journals and more for international journals, and a mega-bonus for high-profile journals.

    The bottom line is that you can become comfortable middle class by pumping out as many publications in the most obscure international journal that you can break the entry barrier into. You can become very comfortable indeed if you actually start cooking the data and publishing only in journals you doubt will ever fact-check your data (for example, a journal run by your buddy down the hall). And short of the journals getting wise to you, there is virtually no chance of being caught if you are careful - you simply choose your fake results to be just-interesting-enough to be publishable while not notable enough to garner any widespread attention. In all but the highest-tier journals, the peer review is under no obligation to also serve as fraud detection. Peer reviewers are anonymous, unpaid volunteers who are asked to assess if the presented data warrant the arrived-at conclusions, the system simply could not operate if we had to assume every submitted paper could be a carefully planted fake.

    In the US, the people who give you your grants work for some large federal agency that would start going over everything you have ever written with a fine-toothed comb at the first whisper of faked data. In China, the grant managers are often employees of the same institution that you work at, so there are all sorts of disincentives to proactively look for fraud.

    But just because the system is skewed this way doesn't mean they should be let off the hook by any means. Fake science is so much worse than no-science because it often forces others in the same field to have to expend scarce resources to identify, reproduce, and discredit it. And as the Central Government shifts to aiming for quality over quantity, they will have to pay the price sooner and crack down on massive fraud, or risk exclusion from the very same international scientific communities they hope to impress.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:00AM (#31893378)

    The Chinese approach to ethics is almost purely situational.

    LOL! Just two stories down we got another news on worker extortion in the USofA! And you imply the lack of ethics as a completely Chinese thing.

    Have you ever did business with American companies? Verizon? Sony Music? Hello, anyone paying attention?

    Perhaps what you really meant was those Chinese researcher should be smarter and did their con job in the financial market instead? Then they could become billionaires and live a good life for a decade or two like Madoff did, rather than being caught AND didn't got much money to begin with.

  • by PiSkyHi (1049584) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:28AM (#31893670)

    The Tao Te Ching is one of my favourite books. I am now living in Beijing and it seems that of the main 3 fabled founders of Chinese Wisdom, Lao Tzu, Confucius and Sun Tsu, Lao Tzu is consistently misunderstood and misrepresented.

    It seems this text is too much like poetry and its brilliance only strikes a chord with very few - since its lessons require a kind of letting go of the illusion of control, most people can't hear its messages at all.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:51AM (#31893736)

    In China he would most likely have gotten a trial of 2-3 days behind doors followed by an execution within a few weeks after that.

    Someone like Madoff would have been in too big a hole, and have pissed off too many people, to be able to buy his way out.

    These days I regularly read in the Hong Kong newspapers about high-flying politicians and businesspeople being sentenced to long jail terms or indeed to death for corruption and other financial crimes such as pyramid schemes. The central government is serious when it comes to fighting corruption however it is really really hard as the lower echelons are so thoroughly corrupt. As a rule of thumb the higher up in the government the less corruption you find (though when it takes place the amounts of money involved become mind blowing).

  • by jprupp (697660) on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:25AM (#31894096)

    The country I come from, Venezuela, has a similar Communist-style government, a share a lot of traits with China in this regard. They're willing to ditch moral and ethics when it comes to climbing up the social ladder. They're also quite poor and nationalists, and tend to engage in any behavior that creates an illusion of being smarter or wealthier, as a country or individual.

    Most participate in this illusion-building business, unwilling to accept information that can challenge their views of their own bogus little world.

  • As a reviewer (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:40AM (#31894146)

    I often review papers for signal processing journals and conferences. I find that about 2/3 of what I review is from China or Korea and that a large proportion of it is crap. I never saw any hint of a paper being fabricated though, it usually just looks like some kind of undergrad project. What I've been told is that there's a pressure on publishing a lot, which probably explains the poor quality.

  • by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Monday April 19, 2010 @06:01AM (#31894226) Journal

    I have heard of the melamine milk scandal. The CCP killed a farmer who may or may not have heard that his milk was being altered and a guy who may or may not have known the stuff he was mixing together could hurt anyone. The owners and operators of the company more or less got off. The local communists, who covered the problem up, were fired by the government and then quietly rehired elsewhere some months later.

    And the only reason anyone knew about any of this is New Zealanders discovered the problem and reported it.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Monday April 19, 2010 @06:42AM (#31894350)
    Actually, if the fake papers are being put out by publicly traded companies then they could very well do quite a bit. The SEC has a pretty broad area of jurisdiction when it comes to companies pumping out false information to bump their stock price. But I know that's not really what you were thinking about, in general the SEC wouldn't have any authority at all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @06:47AM (#31894364)

    Some second-hand advice: Be very careful about situations where a Chinese company will benefit from your investment, and may stand to utilise that benefit for themselves if you pull out.

    E.g. if you invest in production machinery and training for a Chinese factory that you cooperate with, and agree fixed salaries for the employees, or a profit share. Quite likely you will see horrible quality products and constant demands for upgrade cash. When you pull out they will suddenly start to produce higher quality items for themselves. Better to own the factory, or to agree a piece rate and a strict quality inspection regime with a Chinese company (make it bulletproof and watertight and get ready to have it breached).

    Also remember that the production quality may not be what you expect. Factories in areas that have been producing for decades have used all that time to refine production qualities. Even though the supplier will naturally promise standard quality that may not be the case - they may even buy a prototype and claim to have produced it, or just make up photos and send you. The Chinese are not magicians that can wizard up Japanese-quality motorbikes from sticks and stones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @06:59AM (#31894402)

    The net result - they will remain low-paid, working in extreme conditions (see http://www.outrightdistribution.com/programmes/blood-sweat-and-luxuries-513.aspx [outrightdistribution.com]) and basically exploited to the limit.

    Africans are exploiting africans.

    The generous white guys who fucked their land, enslaved them, divided the borders arbitrary and happily sold them guns to kill each other will, oh so generously, "integrate" them in the modern world by a slow and painful exploitation. It will last decades. It's disgusting...

    Please ... I've lived in Africa all my life. There was genocidal maniacs killing each other here long before any white man stepped into the fray. Is it any surprise now that they're still killing each other? This wasn't some peaceful paradise that got fucked up by the colonialists, it was hell on earth before whites arrived.

    Africa's culture is largely rooted in the "be the prey or be the predator" mentality of the stone ages. Giving them guns was a bad idea, but other cultures managed to evolve and survive the transition to technology (with the occasional lapses). Africa and it's people are they way they are because they keeping voting in raw populalists as leaders who then proceed to rape the countries they rule and nationalise the foreign-owned industries for personal gain only. The people cheer on their rulers when the asian-owned factories are nationalised, and then blame "colonialism" when those factories close down because no one is around who knows how to run a non-crooked business.

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:12AM (#31894860) Homepage Journal

    Serious about fighting corruption?

    There's only one "serious" way of fighting corruption in my book: shining the light of openness on the places where corruption festers.

    The exaggerated sentences are a sure sign that the regime *isn't* serious about fighting corruption. They go through the motions of "making an example" of the current offender, yet inevitably he'll have no shortage of successors.

    So if the strategy doesn't work to reduce corruption, why do they keep doing it? Because it does something very useful to them. It makes the issue one of *personalities*. It's not the system that's broken, it's this apparently endless supply of bad apples. You make a show of punishing a bad apple, and that convinces the people that the higher-ups are honest men. If those men control the media, the police and the courts, how could they fail to create that impression?

    When a wicked rebel finally overthrows the government, he immediately becomes the duly constituted government and the officials of the former government become criminals. That is the law of the medieval thinker. It is not *our* conception of law, except possibly international law. Our concept of law is not about personalities. It is a set of common rules that at once bind all of us and free us. Our ideal of law is not order or preservation of the current regime, it is this: so long as a man stays on the clearly marked road of legality, he is utterly unassailable. Granted our laws fall short of that, but that is overwhelming what we expect from the law, even if we don't expect perfection.

    In China, the law is more vaguely drawn. It's brilliant in a way, because when you can't be sure when you've broken it you curb your behavior, but it's not law in our sense at all. It's just power.

    The higher ups in the Chinese Communist Party are honest men in the same way the rebel who seizes power and recreates the old regime with a different cast of personalities is an honest man. At any point in time, these men are "honest" for a certain value of "honest" -- a value that they get to define to suit their interests at the moment.

    What the Communist Party has done is give up on any pretense of socialism, replacing it by a pretense of a free market. You can't have a free market without a free society, and you can't have a free society without real laws. China is huge and full of talented people who would flourish under the rule of law. But the party only has to improve on its history of miserable failure to make things better. They can eliminate some of the things they did that were holding China back, and then take credit for the successes that follow, but that doesn't mean they aren't holding China back.

    What the article basically amounts to is that Chinese research is like everything else the party fosters and protects. There's good, talented people doing good work, but the institution is shot full of corruption. Why does this keep happening? Because the party has not adopted the single principle of "modernization" that really matters: accountability.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:27AM (#31894998)

    Accountability - yes that's an issue. Mostly to who the leaders are accountable.

    And then fighting corruption is difficult when the whole society is corrupt. How can you make sure the anti-corruption body isn't corrupt themselves? Basically the age-old "who watches the watchers" issue. How to fight corruption in the police for a start? When you need that very police force to arrest corrupt people? You basically ask them to arrest themselves. And then the suspects will just again bribe the officers trying to arrest them.

    It's very hard to do. Truly hard. And it requires great vision and guts - and that is what the current government is missing. The problem is so big, it becomes almost impossible to fight. You have to start with the top and work your way down. That's the only way.

    You may want to look in the ICAC, which managed to get Hong Kong clean, and keeps doing so. It wasn't easy. There was a near war between the ICAC and Hong Kong police when the ICAC was set up, and the ICAC tried to arrest police officers for corruption. The ICAC in the end got the upper hand, but it was tough.

    And that was just one small city. Now scale this up to a country with 1.3 bln people.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:44AM (#31895152) Journal
    Yeah right [bbc.co.uk], just a simple farmer who also happened to be the equivalent of the head of the FDA. China's top dogs are DEADLY serious about "saving face" no matter how many influential scapegoats they have to sacrafice.
  • by Garwulf (708651) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:59AM (#31895372) Homepage

    I'm not just going to call bullshit on your post, I'm going to call it racist bullshit too - there's a pretty nasty and uncalled-for value judgement there.

    Africa has a very complicated situation that you have mischaracterized in a way that does no justice to the matter whatsoever. Tell me, have you actually read anything substantial on Africa? I'll even take Dallaire's Shake Hands with the Devil (which I have read). Have you read anything on anthropology, religious or otherwise?

    First off, Africa is a massive continent, and level of development varies from place to place. In parts of Northern and Central Africa, you have locations which have or have had very old civilizations (ever heard of Nubia?) - you also have places where matters are mainly tribal.

    Second, when it comes to that tribalism, the level of genocidal hatred that you see in cases like the Rwandan genocide of the early '90s was NOT a default tribal setting. In fact, it was heavily influenced by European colonialism, during which tribes were broken up in very arbitrary ways, and favourites were played. In some cases this created new tribal rivalries, or heavily intensified old ones. A perfect example of this was Rwanda, where most of the hatred had its origins in the fact that one tribe had been the favourites of the French, and the other wasn't. If you want to see how this was played out in practice, read first-hand accounts of the Belgian Congo - in Heart of Darkness, Conrad was pulling his punches...a LOT. You can start by reading George Washington Williams, who wrote a couple of very shocked reports on the matter around the turn of the 20th century.

    Third, while modern Africa does have to deal with a level of often-fractured tribalism (and remember who it was who fractured it), the developed world is STILL holding it down in a lot of ways. The World Bank is well known for handing out development loans that leave a country worse-off than they were before taking the money. The latest excuse for holding back African development is Anthropogenic Global Warming, which is used to prevent African nations from building coal-fired power plants (which is all they can afford - and power is a necessary step to industrialization and development), and as a result there is a massive energy crisis in parts of Africa right now. So, in fact, the Western World declared colonialism over and then continued to screw around with Africa anyway.

    And, finally, your statement that "Or, to put it even more bluntly, Africans are suffering because their culture is too primitive to support nation-states, and they should either go back to being hunter-gatherer tribes living in jungle or copy the necessary memes from Chinese or European culture to finish their transition to be part of the modern world," is, put more bluntly, racist drivel that has no place in a civilized discussion. African tribes have managed nation-building on their own (Shaka Zulu is the most famous example), and considering all the bumps that we have had - and are still having (I would point out that the last European genocide was in the 1990s) - on our path to development, there is no guarantee that we found the best way. There were plenty of civilizations before us, and there will be plenty after we are gone. Africa is a very complicated situation - just like any part of the developing world - that cannot just be summarized as "they're too primitive."

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