Fang Shimin (R) and Fang Xuanchang (L), China’s fraud exposers. Both pictures from China Digital Times.
The New Humanist has a fascinating article on two Chinese mythbusters everyone should know – Caijing Magazine’s science editor Fang Xuanchang and biochemist-turned-fraud-exposer Fang Shimin. Both are in a fight against psuedoscience and fake resumes, and both have suffered for it.
China journalism junkies will recognize both names pretty easily.
Fang Xuanchang was in the news earlier this year after an attempt on his life – thugs accosted him one night as he was walking home, repeatedly striking him on the back of the head. Luckily, Fang’s “brawny and adept at martial arts,” and managed to escape into a taxi and then to a hospital before they could kill him. Unfortunately, coverage of this blatant attack against a well known journalist was remarkably scarce – a couple of editorials about how reporters shouldn’t be attacked (duh) and nothing else done. His attackers are still out there.
Meanwhile, Fang Shimin (also known as Fang Zhouzi), is known as a science cop and allegedly has outed over 900 fakers. The most recent one was a big fish: Former Microsoft China CEO and motivational speaker Tang Jun, who turned out not only not to have filed the patents he said he’d filed, but also not to have graduated from Caltech (much less graduated at all – his diploma was from a discredited “diploma mill”). Interestingly enough, he was also attacked by thugs recently, who purportedly tried to spray him with a knock out chemical before beating him to death with a hammer. “Learning from the attack on Fang Xuanchang, I reacted quickly, ran fast and escaped,” he told readers of his microblog.
But why are two people who expose fraud in science getting so much flack? Fang Xuanchang proposed a theory to New Humanist writer, Sam Geall:
“Not many people understand the work we are doing,” he said. “Most Chinese people’s attitudes to science are superstitious and fearful.” Things may be even worse at the elite level, he said, where science is encouraged in the abstract, without a grasp of the scientific method. Regarding scientific and critical thinking, Fang added, “Chinese people need a new enlightenment.”
The rest of the article is definitely worth a spine-chilling, confidence shattering read. If this is the current climate for Chinese scientists, I guess all the worries over in the U.S. about the green-tech race are for naught – any innovation that comes out of here will need to first be taken with massive heaps of salt. And in the meantime, those who are trying to do good science all should get into track & field.