by wjw on September 16, 2010

I recall being told just yesterday how many Chinese scientists were being trained, as opposed to USAian scientists.  Vastly more.  Hugely more.   We are doomed.  The Chinese scientists are going to come over here and pick our dead, bleached bones for the useful bits of DNA.

Though, as The Humanist points out, Chinese science is corrupt, politicized, and riddled with plagiarism and superstition.   Some might have a hard time seeing this as a threat.

What is the definition of a good person?” Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, asked at a graduation address in July. His answer: “He does not cheat in exams, or plagiarise another scholar’s work, or cut corners in construction projects, or sell fake goods or accept bribes.” All fairly uncontroversial, you might think, especially considering the occasion. But, in fact, Wang was bravely addressing an issue that surfaces almost every day in the Chinese media. He was taking a stand in the continuing battle between those who uphold academic and scientific values and those others who can still achieve high status and rewards in China from peddling pseudoscience.

The article goes on to document scientific fraud, including fraudsters challenging their critics to duels, suing them for libel, and hiring hit men to whack them on the public street.   (And we think that academic politics in the States is vicious!)

This publish-or-perish culture has led to unrealistic targets at Chinese universities – and as a predictable consequence, rampant plagiarism. In January, the peer-reviewed international journal Acta Crystallographica Section E announced the retraction of more than 70 papers by Chinese scientists who had falsified data. Three months later, the same publication announced the removal of another 39 articles “as a result of problems with the data sets or incorrect atom assignments”, 37 of which were entirely produced in Chinese universities. The New Jersey-based Centenary College closed its affiliated Chinese business school programme in July after a review “revealed evidence of widespread plagiarism, among other issues, at a level that ordinarily would have resulted in students’ immediate dismissal from the college.” A government study, cited by Nature, found that about one-third of over 6,000 scientists surveyed at six top Chinese institutions had practised “plagiarism, falsification or fabrication”.

But it’s not only the emphasis on quantity that damages scientific quality in China. Publication bias – the tendency to privilege the results of studies that show a significant finding, rather than inconclusive results – is notoriously pervasive. One systematic review of acupuncture studies from 1998, published in Controlled Clinical Trials, found that every single clinical trial originating in China was positive – in other words, no trial published in China had found a treatment to be ineffective. Moreover, a nationalistic and defensive approach to discredited methods keeps superstition alive in the academies and government.

I once sat through an invited lecture at Beijing’s prestigious People’s University, delivered by an bespectacled professor in a white lab coat, which linked the science of genetic modification to crop circles and the teachings of the Vietnamese guru Supreme Master Ching Hai (author of The Dogs in My Life and The Birds in My Life).

(But there are no crop circles in China!  The Chinese are stealing our crop circle science!  And Supreme Master Ching Hai has stolen Goldie Hawn’s hair!  This must stop!)

Y’know, if we’re afraid of China competing with the US in science and engineering, we should just bombard them with more of this stuff.  Send them Scientology!  Biorhythms!  Creation science!  The works of Velikovsky!  The Shaver Mystery!

We are the foremost purveyors of pseudoscience in the world!  We will bury them!

mastadge September 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Because no one ever gets anywhere in the US with pseudoscience, corruption or superstition!

Dave Bishop September 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Sounds just like my experience of working for a British company in the R&D department! After a few years the company dropped the ‘R’ from R&D – and then, a few years after that, told us all that we needed to be more ‘innovative’. We were expected to achieve more innovation through participating in endless ‘brainstorming’ sessions. Within our department (in which quite a few people had a PhD in a scientific subject) belief in pseudoscience, astrology, crop circles and alchemy was rife.

I exaggerate slightly – but what some of my colleagues believed in didn’t bear very much relation to scientific orthodoxy …

wjw September 16, 2010 at 7:40 pm

While the US is rife with superstition and crank religion, and while one of our political parties is doing its best to empower these people, and while TV networks favor us with endless programs on UFOs and ghost hunters, we haven’t yet got so bad that articles on biorhythms are published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and neither Uri Geller nor Peter Popoff have taken out a contract on James Randi for calling him a fraud.

Joseph Hertzlinger September 17, 2010 at 12:56 am

…one of our political parties is doing its best to empower these people…


Evan September 17, 2010 at 1:22 am

There are reasons why the brightest students from China, and some other countries, go to U.S. universities….something we wouldn’t see if the educational system was so awful in the U.S., and so great in other places, as is sometimes claimed.

The larger question is whether people in the “West” should be scared of the “Rise of the Rest”, which is real though overhyped in some ways…I tend to think no, that overall prosperity begets prosperity, and the world economy is not a zero-sum game.

Zora September 18, 2010 at 5:33 am

I’m still trying to break into the lucrative ESL editing for foreign scientists market. I bid, they pick someone cheaper (fast food wages cheaper, I’d guess, because I’ve been bidding low). According to friends who make a living at this, it goes on this way for quite a while until you edit for someone who actually gets published, at which he/she recommends you to to all his/her friends, expense be damned.

Anyway … the papers I’m sent aren’t just written in dire and ludicrous English, they’re STUPID. They’re Minimum Publishable Units, dressed up with pomposity and a few equations. vacuous and pointless.

ManDrillSergeant September 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I don’t think it would be a good idea.
While someone already managed to weaponize pseudoscience (e.g. the anti-vaccine hysteria) the targeting system are lagging way behind.
Anything you hit your opponent with will come back to you through the biggest infection vector of them all: the internet.
In fact the PRC may even be better prepared for such a meme war.
Once they’ve identified a potential attack with weapons grade stupid they could try to inoculate their corner of the internet with the great firewall of china.

DensityDuck September 20, 2010 at 8:50 pm

I’m reminded of Kuttner’s “Nothing But Gingerbread Left”. Memitic warfare!

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