记者：贾鹤鹏 郝炘 美国《科学》2006年12月1日
SCIENTIFIC CONDUCT China’s Fraud Buster Hit by Libel Judgments; Defenders Rally Round
1 DECEMBER 2006 VOL 314 SCIENCE. pp. 1366-1367
BEIJING—China’s self-appointed science cop, Fang Shi-min, was dealt a pair of setbacks last week in his high-profile crusade against academic misconduct. Two Chinese courts handed down libel judgments against Fang, known by his nom de guerre Fang Zhouzi, and the newspapers and Internet sites that have featured his writings on pseudoscience and fraud. Fang’s revelations have cost several scientists their jobs and reputations.
With Fang now on the defensive, his backers are setting up two funds to help foot the costs of litigation. “If you strike false science, false science [makers] will strike you,” says Guo Zhengyi, a science writer and a co-organizer of one foundation. Guo and others say they hope that, by drawing attention to what they call “absurd” court rulings, they may force the government to crack down on corruption.
Fang received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and did a postdoc in the United States before becoming a science essayist. He got fired up about fraud in 2001, after reading dubious claims in the Chinese media about “nucleotide supplements.” Fang then started using his Web site, Xin Yu Si (“New Threads”), to debunk pseudoscience and expose alleged misconduct, from résumé padding to data fabrication (Science,10 August 2001, p. 1039).
By Fang’s tally, New Threads has aired allegations against more than 500 individuals. Fang uncovered some cases himself, but most were e-mailed to him by others. Few exposures have led to official investigations, and fewer still have resulted in punishment— the most notable being the dismissals earlier this year of an assistant dean of Qinghua University’s medical school in Beijing and a dean at Tongji University in Shanghai, both for having falsified their résumés and exaggerated achievements.
The anonymous allegations published on New Threads trouble some people, who liken them to dazibao, or posters, used during the Cultural Revolution to denounce “class enemies.” Fang and his supporters contend there’s a big difference: The Web postings are individual actions not directed by the state. The Chinese government takes an ambiguous stance: It blocks access in China to New Threads’ U.S.– based site, www.xys.org, but allows access to mirror sites.
Fang’s recent setbacks came on consecutive days. On 21 November, a Beijing intermediate court ruled that an article Fang wrote in 2005 defamed the late Liu Zihua, a Sichuan provincial government employee. In a dissertation written in France in the 1930s, Liu presented calculations based on the eight trigrams of an ancient divination text, I Ching (Book of Changes), predicting the existence of a 10th major planet in the solar system. Liu’s prognostication was resurrected after last year’s announced discovery of 2003UB313 (now officially a dwarf planet named Eris). A Sichuan newspaper ran a story extolling Liu’s prophecy.
In an essay, Fang labeled Liu’s prediction “pseudoscience” and noted that a Chinese astronomer discredited it in the 1940s. Liu’s widow and son sued Fang and several newspapers and Internet content providers for libel. The court judged Fang’s words “insulting” to Liu and ordered him to apologize publicly and pay Liu’s family $2500 plus legal fees. The family did not respond to an interview request.
Then on 22 November, a court in Xi’an slapped another libel judgment on Fang, ordering him and Beijing Keji Bao (Beijing Sci-Tech Report) to pay Xi’an Fanyi University $18,750 and its president Ding Zuyi $1250 in damages plus legal fees. In 2004, Chinese newspapers ran stories citing a “report” in the Los Angeles Times lauding Ding as one of China’s most respected university presidents and his private college for training translators as the 10th-ranked university in China. In a 2005 article in Beijing Sci-Tech Report, Fang quoted an education ministry spokesperson, who stated that investigations showed the report to be “a self-paid advertisement.” Ding sued Fang for libel. Ding could not be reached for comment.
Fang is appealing another libel verdict by a Wuhan court last July. In this case, Xiao Chuan-guo, a urology professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan and a clinical associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, sued after Fang accused him in an essay last year of counting conference abstracts as publications in international journals to inflate his achievements. Fang also challenged Xiao’s claim that a surgical procedure he invented is recognized internationally and has won neurourology’s “highest award.” The presiding judge ruled that Fang’s criticisms “seriously lacked facts” and ordered him to apologize publicly and pay Xiao $3750 in compensation. A final ruling is expected in early December.
Xiao told Science that the accusations are groundless and that Fang “intentionally confused” Xiao’s urology awards. Xiao says he supported Fang until 2002, after which he concluded that Fang had begun to “misguide the public” with less-than-solid accusations.
In response to the Wuhan ruling, Zhang Feng, a Florida-based financial analyst and college classmate of Fang’s, along with eight other expatriates, last month established the Organization for Scientific and Academic Integrity in China to raise money for Fang and other anticorruption campaigners. So far, the nonprofit has received more than $10,000 in donations. And in China, Guo and others are creating a separate science fraud-fighting fund. Fang’s lawyer, Peng Jian, hopes the foundations will raise money to “implement systematic investigations into some individual cases or organize seminars to discuss legal punishments against proved misconduct makers.”
Fang vows to continue “using sharptongued criticism” to expose misconduct and folly. But he doubts that his freelance fraud busting can play a “decisive role” in cleaning up Chinese academia. To be more effective, he says, he intends to report future allegations, when appropriate, to a new disciplinary office at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology and wait for a response before posting them online.
–JIA HEPENG AND HAO XIN Jia Hepeng is a writer in Beijing.