Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Isn't it obvious that we do not understand Chinese chemical academia?

Well, it looks like See Arr Oh got results from Chemistry - A European Journal, with Retraction Watch covering the details. (Here's Derek Lowe's take.) This comment by D.G. Rossiter at RW is worthwhile:
Having worked in Chinese academia, I can tell you that especially at the lower-level universities or institutes where the authors are pressured to produce papers, a common approach is to do your own research following exactly a published English-language paper (so, the data is yours but the experimental design / research questions are not) but the paper is cut-paste with your numbers substituted for the originals. The rationale is, it’s valid science (i.e., the experiments and data are correct) so who cares if we follow a template? The original must be good…. but this is a deeper issue in current Chinese culture in general, called by the brilliant author Yu Hua’s ‘Chinese in Ten Words’ “copycat” culture (山寨) — an insatiable desire to copy an original because it’s presumed to be excellent. Think Elvis impersonators.
There are so many things about Chinese academic science that I do not understand. If I had any money, I would commission an article that would explain the overall funding structure of Chinese academic chemistry, the various institutions that are relevant (SIOC, I'm looking at you) and the various influential players. Surely the collaboration between the ACS and the Chinese Chemical Society would result in better understanding, yes? How does China's internal politics play into this? What kind of tenure pressures are there? What sort of financial pressures or cultural explanations are there?

None of those factors excuse plagiarism (whether of words or experimental design), of course -- but it would go a long way into explaining why things like this happen. 


  1. I dont believe that Chinese chemical culture is much different from the rest of Chinese culture

  2. The answer would make your head hurt and require a decent understanding of Chinese culture which would also make you head hurt.

    Your whole academic worth is based on publishing, but there is a finite amount of real research available that will yield results. So you can do the copycat approach or make up data. I have a friend in Asia helping an Asian professor do that right now so he can do his PhD. He hates it, but it's a job. The publishing is what the ministry of education looks at to decide if you are a decent university and worthy of their funding. Once you're tenured though, the job is for life as long as you don't get caught doing anything too stupid or outrageous.

    Classes that you would teach revolve around group projects so you can spend as little time as possible grading so you can work a 2nd job. University professor salaries are set by the govt so the only way to make more money is 2nd jobs or some really cool financial chicanery(i.e. Taiwan's GEPT)

  3. plagiarism? Now u are talking. Where were u 2000 years ago?

    1. I didn't exist. And guess what? Neither did you!