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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 Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:46AM (#31893054)

    but they police citizens, opinions, the media, the internet....

    it's what I call:

    contradiction

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:58AM (#31893102)
    I get lots of fabricated resumes at work from china and other developing countries as well. they will lie cheat and steal to get their way - china has truely embraced western culture.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:02AM (#31893122) Homepage Journal

    The Chinese approach to ethics is almost purely situational.

    Asian religions in general lack the fixed rules found in western moral systems. The ancient "Art of War" text is pretty much about using manipulation and deceit to win wars without even doing battle. This kind of cunning is prized in Chinese culture. It also results in less physical conflict.

    I don't necessarily think this means that westerners are more honest, it's just that cheating is frowned upon enough that it's usually caught earlier, among peers. Because it's more accepted in Chinese culture, it can pile up to the very end among larger teams.

    Further, in a crowded and competitive environment, some may be pressured to take more risk, and this risk is often deceit. It's often an all-or-nothing game.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:07AM (#31893154)

    As discussed here many times before (this is not new): Chinese scientists are judged by number of publications, just that. Just the number. As a result a PhD student will do their best to pump out as many papers as possible, as the more they manage to get published the better future career prospects they have.

    The quality of the papers is simply not taken into account when it comes to job offers.

    And then this is the obvious result. Lots and lots of papers, with little to no really new information, and on top of that a lot of made-up stuff by the ones that really have nothing new but still need the numbers.

  • by mojo-raisin (223411) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:57AM (#31893366)

    Peer review may be intense, but I find that flaws in research are often ignored.

    As my prof said to me the other day: "I could sell this no problem," in reference to my MS thesis work. I have been hoping to do more supportive research, but in the "publish, publish, publish" world, it has been deemed more prudent to move on to other work.

    As the Prof said, there are two possibilities if I attempt the background(controls). (1) They work, in which case I've bought nothing (her words). or (2) The controls don't work in which case everything is garbage. The Prof would rather remain ignorant if that is the case... wow.

    What honesty we have here in Academia USA!

    A few sentences later, the sage Prof said, "It's not unethical."

    I thought I was getting a MS degree to learn and do science well. Instead, it's become drudgery.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:03AM (#31893386)

    China loves fakes.

    Examples: fake Rolex watches, fake LV hand bags, fake jewelery (both as in copied design or fake gold/diamonds/gemstones), fake eggs (no kidding here - they appeared on the market in Hong Kong), fake medicine (featuring well-known brands on the packing but at best just a placebo and at worst a deadly poison), and fake beauty in their "miss plastic surgery" pageants.

    Mainlanders come in droves to Hong Kong to buy genuine hand bags, watches, jewelery, milk powder, medicine, and more. At least in Hong Kong you can be reasonably sure it's the real thing, while in Mainland you're better off assuming it's a fake.

  • I wonder what happened to those two profs from Jian who sent in all those fabricated crystal papers.

    Sadly, although I am looking to do business in China in the future, I have come across many anecdotes from people who tell me it is very dangerous.
    - Someone I know well lost millions due to Chinese side refusing to pay for computer equipment sold
    - One firm in Hong Kong told me mainland companies prefer to hire their CFOs from Hong Kong because they are seen as being more trustworthy
    - Several companies that had focused on China, leaving it and heading to Japan, due to difficulty in finding trustworthy partners.

    I think China has reached a point where cheating in one way or another is limiting its growth potential severely. The main factor in considering a project in China is how not to get screwed. This is not a theory I made up, but actually what has come up in discussions about 2 different companies who have asked me to sell their products in China.

    The news articles attached suggest that academia is also completely ridden with cheating unfortunately. I can't see that the country will be able to get anywhere in the future without a sweeping change. I don't think it is a matter of imprisoning or killing academics like China has done with financial or government people in the past. The only idea I have is for someone to give John Boswell a grant to translate the Symphony of Science [symphonyofscience.com] videos into Chinese. This could be mandatory viewing for all academics, and the leaders of universities would be required to institute programs for instilling a new culture of honesty in students and having papers tested before they leave the university. Another idea is to create a bilingual (Chinese-English) transparency website that can be used to discover cheating authors and to also post what happened to them when they were discovered.

    The attempt would be to supplant this supposedly celebrated part of Chinese culture and redirect the energy into an understanding of what science is really about. Clearly, you cannot perceive the wonder, or make great contributions, if you cheat. The linked articles suggest that this understanding is not yet mainstream in China, or is too overshadowed by the economic chaos.

  • Re:Why We Do This (Score:5, Interesting)

    by victorhooi (830021) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:17AM (#31893440)
    heya,

    Disclaimer: Yes, I'm of Chinese descent.

    As sad as it is, I think I have to agree with many of the above commentators. There does seem to be a strange lack of morals in people from the PRC, particularly the students. In Australian universities, rightly or wrongly, they have something of a reputation for being underhanded, plagiarising cheats who you really, really do not want to have in your group assignments. That's not to say they're the only one's doing it, far from it, but they definitely have that reputation. Maybe things have changed, I don't know.

    In terms of the underlying reason, It could be for any number of reasons. Maybe they find the language hard? *shrugs*. But then students from other countries don't resort to cheating. Or maybe they don't quite understand what exactly plagiarism is? I don't know. I doubt it. Maybe they don't know how to reference? I worked in one group where they basically copied entire paragraphs, word for word, from our mentor's project (submitted the year before). They didn't even both to change the product names to match what we were doing. And when I confronted them, they didn't seem particularly repentant, more annoyed they got caught. Heck, I've seen them submit in Wikipedia articles as their project, formatting unchanged.

    I really don't think it's a cultural thing as such. True, Confucianism does have its weird quirks. But to argue that we have no morals is a little unfair. However, my father taught me a saying when we were young, I probably can't even write the characters anymore...haha...disgraceful, but basically, it went along the lines of when your wealth is short, your morals are correspondingly short. Maybe that's it. But I doubt most of the international students arriving here are exactly "poor", by any definition.

    I suspect it's really just a "win at any costs" culture endemic on the mainland, combined with their infamous mercenariness. Even in business, from what I've heard, you really, really want to be careful dealing with them. They'll screw you over nine ways to Sunday, and sell their own grandmother to make a buck. *sigh*. It really is sad to see, but maybe things will change, as they get wealthier?

    Cheers, Victor

  • by Hatman39 (1759474) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:21AM (#31893464)
    Well, evidently you have never published, or if you have, you have never run a larger (multi-pub) project. In this case, you'd publish and then proceed to do the background checks. If the background checks fail, you can publish those as well. If your original research turns out fine, you tack on some additional (original) research and publish that. Also, given that it worked in a single case, you are evidently on to something. Ergo, checking again is, at this point, a waste of time. You share your findings with the world, and then have other people run with it as well. More on-topic: I have seen a lot of Chinese, and more generally Asian, papers in my field... but not one of them is original. Also, doubtful results do pass by from time to time (although verifying this is hard, when it comes to sattelite observations there's no doing it twice). It seems that Chinese scholars (based on the ones I know and the research I see) are more concerned with quantity, as it improves your scholarly standing very directly, than with quality. So reproducing research (in my field: doing data assimilation on soil moisture for the umphteenth time) is a quick and easy way to get this.
  • Out of sheer curiosity, what school are you attending? Behavior like that would result in a pretty amusing, and probably very public, outcome at a school like GA Tech.
  • by ppanon (16583) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:32AM (#31893498) Homepage Journal
    Heh, what do you think happened with Madoff for 20 years? The only reason he got caught is that the economic downturn caused enough people to need to pull some of their money out of the Ponzi scheme that it collapsed when the piggy bank was emptied.
  • by saihung (19097) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:36AM (#31893508)

    I heard the same thing about academic credentials from my friends on various grad faculties. They simply cannot depend on any of the transcripts, CVs, or recommendations they get from China. There are so many universities that no one has ever heard of that it's basically impossible to confirm anything. And professors in China simply don't write rec letters. When asked, they do what only piss-poor professors in the USA do - they just have the student write the thing and they sign it, unread. If the situation is really bad, the student signs the thing too.

  • by saihung (19097) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:39AM (#31893524)

    Post-doc biologists at Harvard have to publish 70 papers in 7 years (if memory serves) to even qualify for a junior faculty position. There's no way that a scientist can publish ten papers per year that are worth jack squat, and the result is that most of the papers coming out of Harvard are garbage that get published because of where they come from. This isn't a China-only problem.

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:47AM (#31893550) Homepage
    Agreed 100%. The problem is that this is China we are talking about. A few years back here on Slashdot I likened the .cn ccTLD to a sewer due to the rampant abuse by spammers, port scans other attacks coming from their IP space and so on. The response from many admins was to blackhole the .cn domain and China's IP space en masse, something I predicted would come back to haunt them as more and more Chinese business tried to establish ties with the West and were unable to connect. I guess the Chinese government must have finally realised that too, because they have just implemented a completely draconian set of restrictions to .cn domain registrations that have seen several resellers stop selling sub-domains in .cn altogether.

    Give it a couple of years and I suspect that we'll probably see a similar crackdown happen with the publishing of scientific papers in an attempt to rescue the reputation of Chinese science from whichever gutter it's languishing in by then. Chances are it will be just as draconian as with the .cn domain registrations, and equally likely that it will be far too late for at least some of the scientic journals that got their fingers burnt in the mean time.
  • by Hatman39 (1759474) on Monday April 19, 2010 @04:32AM (#31893686)
    Of course, every market has its issues. This is true for industry as it is for science. No one in science denies this, but I think some people outside of science have a slightly too romantic view of it.
    As for the multi-pub thing: The case is isn't that if you have some severly deficient research you should just publish it, more that you
    1) Shouldn't see your paper as the last one (either by your lab, or by others)
    2) Shouldn't try to cover ever inch of the matter.

    As you state:

    My project is rather tangential to the work the rest of the lab does. I will be the only who ever does the work in the lab, and no one else will ever follow up on it.

    And in the light of this, your statement does make some more sense.

    I think the main problem, with China and elsewhere, is that it is very, very difficult to assess the quality of someone's scientific work. As a result, pubs and impact factor have become the standard of choice, and it has brought forth a mercenary attitude. Because of this, people have attempted less than honest tactics. Sadly, the only solution I see is either removing the entire meritocracy in science, or a complete reworking of the system in some way (don't ask me how). In short, I doubt that the problem is really China or Chinese culture, but has more to do with the way science is currently organized.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday April 19, 2010 @04:45AM (#31893724)

    I don't know that the Symphony of Science will help. It isn't a problem with the scientists as you've pointed out, it is a general cultural problem. The current culture in China is one that is very short sighted. You do what is good for you now, and don't worry about what comes later. Well, that kind of attitude can lead to some real problems, as our recent economic downturn did a good job showing. However in China it is very much a national attitude like that and it really permeates all facets of life. So to think that the academia would be any better isn't likely.

    What is needed is just for the government and the citizens to start to realize there are long term consequences to their actions and get a bit more perspective. That will probably happen, one way or another, as many of the short sighted things they do are slowly starting to bite them in the ass and this will only increase. However until that understanding start to become more commonplace, I don't think you'll see any improvement in academia.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:24AM (#31893884)

    Not sure how serious you try to be here.

    OK I'm European. My forefathers once sat down together and divided Africa between them. They took a map, a ruler and pencil, and started chopping up the continent. Literally. That's why to this day there are so many straight borders there.

    That put many groups together in one country that shouldn't be, and spread other groups over two (or more) countries.

    And as a result there is a virtual constant state of civil war in the continent. Some places more than others, but in the last ten years most have had civil war. Somalia is the current worst off, Ethiopia was a major problem before (I believe it's somewhat stable now but not really keeping track).

    Kenya is currently doing quite well: no civil wars going on in most of the country at least, but the security situation is still poor though a handful of armed guards is enough for a foreigner to survive, and as a result they pull in a lot of foreign investment such as Dutch flower growers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:57AM (#31894002)

    I'm a university prof in Japan. The Chinese students we get here are awesome. I try to get as many of them in my classes as possible. They actually do the work (very different from Japanese students) and come to class with something interesting/insightful to say (again, very different from Japanese students). I don't think you could give me enough of them.

    That being said, I did not have the same experience when I was teaching in the US. The Chinese students there cheated like mad. My friend (Japanese) who is now teaching in the US writes me at least once a month asking, "What should I do with all these Chinese students? They're all cheating!" I tell her to fail them, but she's too nice.

    Another friend taught in China for 2 years before joining our faculty here. She is Singaporean of Chinese descent. Her parents made her go to Chinese school so she could grow up to be a proper Chinese lady. Here is what she decided: Mao destroyed China. Having grown up on classics and traditional moral teachings, and being fluent and literate in Mandarin, she thought she knew what she'd be getting into when she went there. But she found that people were petty, dishonest, and did baffling things like take more than one handout, rather than one per person ("They're not worth anything!" she finally screamed). She concluded that when you kill off everyone with an education (or they run away to Taiwan or elsewhere), you're left with provincial morons who are greedy and lack social values. Then you impose a system on them that cannot provide for even their most basic needs, and they learn to grab anything they can get right now because they may never get another chance.

    And that's the reading of China that I've decided is the closest. It cannot be overstated how much Maoism changed that country, and mostly for the worse.

  • Re:What else is new? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:58AM (#31894004)

    and Seaweed [bangkokpost.com], eggs [seaweedmalaysia.com] and pretty much everything else.

    I actually had some of the seaweed pictured in that post and can confirm it to be plastic. After that experience if there's a situation where I have a choice I never go with Chinese stuff.

  • by jurgen (14843) on Monday April 19, 2010 @07:01AM (#31894224)

    Folks, this has nothing to do with Asian vs. Western culture in general. This is about one thing, very specificially... WITHIN the framework of modern Western society (which dominates the whole world today, including China) China's government has been more heavily promoting and rewarding success in education and research, whereas the Western governments largely reward and promote success in business. Both do what they do without any regard to ethics. The result in China is lying and cheating in academia. The result in the West is lying and cheating in business, which in its milder forms is known as marketing and has become so entrenched that it isn't even considered unethical anymore. In its more severe forms, which are equally pervasive, it leads to Enrons, Maddocks, industries totally dominated by monoplies, etc.

    Simple and obvious.

    :j

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @07:02AM (#31894236)

    So with the American Civil War, that too was tribal warfare. Why else was there such a split as there was, and why does it still live today?

    You defined Africa's civil war as tribal war but there's no difference.

    See also Northern Ireland's Protestant/Catholic wars.

  • by rhsanborn (773855) on Monday April 19, 2010 @07:31AM (#31894308)
    At least in my program, our professors want us to publish a couple papers as a result of our thesis. It doesn't have to be ground breaking, and is usually in parallel with some of their research, but they would like it to be original.
  • Re:Why We Do This (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday April 19, 2010 @07:53AM (#31894380) Homepage Journal

    But to argue that we have no morals is a little unfair. However, my father taught me a saying when we were young, I probably can't even write the characters anymore...haha...disgraceful, but basically, it went along the lines of when your wealth is short, your morals are correspondingly short. Maybe that's it. But I doubt most of the international students arriving here are exactly "poor", by any definition.

    We have plenty of sayings like that... you do what you have to, for example. But by definition, if your morals change when your situation changes, you never really had 'em to begin with. They were just some half-formed convictions, that you discarded for convenience. They weren't morals. Maybe that's just an error in translation, but perhaps it's also amazingly telling.

  • by Benfea (1365845) on Monday April 19, 2010 @09:19AM (#31894924)
    ...the real fact-checking comes with other scientists try to duplicate the results. After all, Ross McKitrick's infamous degrees-for-radians paper slipped through the peer review process and was not caught until someone tried to duplicate his results and got the exact opposite conclusion.
  • wikipedia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ogive17 (691899) on Monday April 19, 2010 @09:27AM (#31895006)
    So basically China is the wikipedia of research papers? While there is probably plenty of legitimate research being done and pubilished, there is enough fake or plagerized data to make everyone skeptical. It may be a good starting point, but never reference a Chinese paper or get laughed at by other professionals.
  • I've heard this same issue come up from two different bio researchers - one doing post-doc work (French), and the other finishing his PhD (American) here in the US. They both related the same 'joke' about Chinese research, something like, "A non-PRC scientist approaches science to seek a result...a PRC-trained/educated scientist asks, "What result do you want to see?" Faking data is rampant among the Chinese students here in the US according to them, so much so that the non-Chinese are being passed over for grants here because they're shackled by such pesky things as 'ethics' and the scientific method. Afterward, when the grant donors see results blow up in their faces when reviewed by peers, they're usually too chagrined to make an issue out of it, having been made thorough fools of.
  • by gozu (541069) on Monday April 19, 2010 @11:45AM (#31896922) Journal

    I posit to you that declaring that "some" cultures have huge flaws is dangerous nonsense. I'm certain that ALL cultures have huge flaws that anyone in their right mind would hate.

    Prove me wrong.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:20PM (#31898588) Journal

    The European governments may have left, but their corporate proxies are running full bore. Libya is a fine example. One reason they "can't" stop fighting is because the companies are putting sociopathic criminals in charge of security. Latin America has a similar problem.

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