Despite a strongly pro-science official stance, the state of science in China is not good. That, at least, is the position of a number of science experts and foreign policy journalists who have commented on recent problems plaguing the field. They have multiple concerns: academic fraud, a troubling amount of plagiarism, verbal and physical against critics of the scientific establishment. Here's a survey of the issues.
- Plagiarism John Hawks, anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, latches onto a Nature finding that 31 percent of submissions to the Journal of Zhejiang University-Science since October 2008 were plagiarized. Adds Hawk: "This Chinese journal is not an extreme case--in some countries, members of National Academies or government ministers are serial plagiarism offenders. We're not talking about reprinting parts of research papers from the same lab; we're talking about wholesale lifting of papers and results from other scholars, often in the U.S, Canada or Europe." He also points out that the excuse of "cultural misunderstanding" doesn't quite cut it: "some of the worst offenders are scientists who are anything but naive."
- Violence Against Science Journalists The New Yoker's Evan Osnos documents the sad case of Fang Shimin, a pseudoscience debunker and blogger. "This is not the first time that Fang has been threatened." Fang has also been accused, upon questioning the "credibility of earthquake forecasting, a practice that enjoys support from parts of the Chinese science establishment ... of taking U.S. money to stifle Chinese innovation."
- 'Scientific Ideas Have a Complex Life in China,' writes Sam Geall
at Foreign Policy while discussing a violent attack on another man,
Caijing magazine science editor Fang Xuanchang. "Fang is one of the
leading figures among China's scientific muckrakers--a scourge of
academic and government-sponsored pseudoscience and a critic of public
and private quackery." Although, he argues, "harnessing scientific
prowess requires promoting good academic practice, scientific
education, critical thinking--and science journalism," the Chinese
government tosses around slogans about the "scientific view of
development"while doing little about "academic fraud" such as
"falsified data." The problem is widespread.
Critics have blamed the pressure to produce fraudulent papers on unrealistic publication targets set by bureaucrats. But for Fang Xuanchang, the problem goes deeper still, as he told me when we met in May. ... "Most Chinese people's attitudes to science are superstitious and fearful." Things might be even worse at the elite level, he said, where science is encouraged in the abstract, without a grasp of the scientific method.
- Where Nationalism Comes In Continuing the discussion at New Humanist, Geall also points out that "it's not only the emphasis on quantity that damages scientific quality in China. Publication bias--the tendency to privilege the results of studies that show a significant finding, rather than inconclusive results--is notoriously pervasive." Part of the problem, too, is that there is a certain "nationalistic and defensive approach to discredited methods." He is referring, in part, to the defense of Chinese traditional medicine and the suggestion that Fang was working with Americans when he attacked the credibility of earthquake forecasting.
- Scientific Publishing Floundering A Nature
editorial chronicles the "quandary" of scientific publishing in China:
"many articles in the country's 5,000-plus science and technology
journals go unread and uncited, calling into question the value of the
research." Yet Chinese scientists publish in international journals in
English at a rate "second ... only to those in the United States." The
Chinese General Administration of Press and Publication is beginning to
address this discrepancy and strengthen the country's science
publishing. The Nature editorial offers a few suggestions, like "an
open-access platform" and not too large of a government role. It
Clearly, there is a strong demand for more information on the best science in China. This is especially true in fields in which the country excels, such as optics and materials, but also in areas such as public health, where data from China have been overlooked.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.