Lies, Damn Lies and Chinese Science

In The Humanist, Sam Geall looks at recent cases of academic or scientific fraud in China, and the “science cops,” such as Fang Zhouzi and Fang Xuanchang, who are trying to keep the facts in check. The article describes the recent cases of Zhang Wuben, a self-proclaimed health guru who turned out to be a quack, and Tang Jun, one of China’s most successful businessmen who lied about his academic credentials:

What these two cases also have in common is the role played by China’s science advocates – such as Fang Xuanchang, science and technology editor at Caijing magazine, and the biochemist-turned-columnist Fang Shimin (no relation, better known by his pen name Fang Zhouzi), who runs the influential (though frequently blocked) watchdog website New Threads.

Fang Zhouzi, sometimes called the “science cop”, claims to have exposed more than 900 cases of academic fraud in China. It was his investigation that brought to light the controversy around Tang Jun’s qualifications. Tang has since said he will sue Fang for libel – and it’s not the first time he has faced such a threat. In 2006 Fang dismissed as unfounded the claim that the academic Liu Zihua had used ancient Chinese philosophy to discover a tenth planet in the solar system. Despite the fact Liu had already been dead for 14 years, his family successfully sued Fang, fining him 20,000 yuan (around £2,000).

This libel judgement led Song Zhenghai, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the History of Natural Science, to launch a petition to remove the term “pseudoscience” from the country’s science popularisation law, claiming Fang had used the term to help stifle “innovative sciences based on traditional cultures”. The petition was unsuccessful, although it was signed by 150 advocates of traditional theories in science and medicine. And while the censorious use of libel laws to stifle legitimate journalism and debate is worrying, some of the other reactions to the Chinese rationalists have been more shocking, veering into anger, paranoia – and even violence.

The Humanist blog also reports on the recent attack suffered by Fang Zhouzi; both he and Fang Xuanchang have been brutally attacked in recent months. Read more about the issue of academic integrity and Tang Jun’s case via CDT.