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Plagiarism, fake research plague academia
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-15 05:39

As China marks the World Consumer Rights Day today, the spotlight would inevitably be on poor products and shoddy service.

But attention is also being focused on the rights of a special group of consumers: subscribers or readers of academic journals.

Plagiarism and fake research have become rampant in China, and are eroding people's trust in academia, Ren Yuing, a member of the Councillors' Office of the State Council, told the recent meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body.

He cited a recent survey of 180 PhD degree holders, of whom 60 per cent paid to be published in academic journals; and about the same percentage copied others' work.

"The situation exists in almost every well-known Chinese university," He Weifang, a professor at Peking University's law school, told China Daily. He is also an activist in fighting what he called academic corruption.

Some 100 Chinese professors plan to publish an open letter calling for the establishment of a national supervision mechanism to root out academic plagiarism. The move follows a series of academic scandals:

Qiu Xiaoqing, a biomedicine professor at Sichuan University, was last year accused of publishing fraudulent research in the November 2003 issue of Nature Biotechnology.

Zhou Yezhong, a professor at Wuhan University's law school, was last December accused of copying others' work "word for word."

Shen Luwei, an associate professor at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, was removed from his post in January for plagiarizing 10 articles in his book.

He Weifang said he felt obliged to sign the open letter as the problem has been holding back the country's scientific development.

Academic corruption refers to institutions making use of their resources to gain improper income or power; but misconduct, which is often individual, could take different forms such as plagiarism, distorting experiment data and tampering with original work.

The existing evaluation system, which emphasizes the quantity of papers rather than quality, is considered the root cause of academic corruption and misconduct in China ?scholars have to publish a certain number of books or papers before they are promoted.

"One of my colleagues was demoted because he failed to publish two papers in key academic journals a year,?He said. "The situation in other schools is worse.?

Zhang Jianzu, a professor at East China University of Science and Technology, said schools are to blame as they often help cover up misconduct. "Many plagiarists still work as professors despite some scandals,?he said.

Some plagiarists also hold administrative positions in schools.

To curb violations of academic rights, the Ministry of Education announced this month that it planned to set up a national supervision committee.

It will work out detailed rules on criteria and punishment for academic corruption and misconduct, and investigate such cases. The 25-member committee will consist of scholars from academic institutions.

Vice-Minister of Science and Technology Ma Songde also disclosed that the ministry would establish an archive database, including books and papers the ministry published. "If any academic violation is found, the stain will be on record for good,?Ma said.

Academic circles applaud the new policies, but how the committee and database will work has sparked heated discussion.

He Weifang insists that the committee be made up of scholars, and procedures be transparent. "Also, those being accused should have the right to appeal.?

He argues that the ministry's committee cannot replace committees set up by individual schools, as "administrative powers should not interfere too much in academic circles.?

Qin Yi, editor-in-chief of Social Sciences in China, a prominent periodical published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said rigorous checking is vital to prevent plagiarism.

She told China Daily that no plagiarism had been found in papers published in her magazine. Manuscripts go through at least three rounds of checks, including anonymous refereeing. Reputed scholars from other academic institutions are also invited to evaluate each paper, as "no matter how knowledgeable our editors are, there might be books they have not read.?

Plagiarism is also prevalent among college students, especially for graduation thesis.

Xu Zhihong, president of Peking University, said last week that the university would announce detailed regulations later this year to look into teachers?responsibilities if plagiarism is found in their students?theses.

The school announced last year that students would be expelled if they were involved in plagiarism.

(China Daily 03/15/2006 page1)

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