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Mathematician Slams Academic Corruption

If academic corruption in China can not be curbed, scientific and technological development in the country will be delayed by 20 years, world-known mathematician Shing-Tung Yau warned recently.


Yau, who is the only Chinese American winner of the Fields Medal, lashed out at rampant plagiarism in Chinese academia in an interview by a Beijing newspaper.


Improving research quality and curbing violations of academic ethics is critical, he said.


Yau, a professor at Harvard University, has many contacts with Chinese students and researchers and pays close attention to the training of mathematicians in China.


He said the papers of some members of China's Academy of Sciences are not even up to the level of Harvard undergraduates.


Many professors in Chinese universities prize the quantity of papers, while neglecting significant research. They even restrict talented students from conducting independent research by demanding their assistance in writing their own articles, said Yau.


Breakthroughs and creativity also often attract jealousy and discrimination, said Yau.


He mentioned that a Chinese student of his at Harvard plagiarized another professor's article. Yet when the student went back to China, he became a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and was put in charge of a science foundation. His salary was became 20 times that of other young researchers though his true expertise was far inferior.


Yau said China's mathematical research was close to the top level in the world before the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, when much of academia was purged in the campaign for ideological purity.


With the rapid economic development in today's China, better achievements should be made by academia, he said.


"Chinese students are talented. They can have great achievement if led by good teachers and doing research in a healthy academic environment," he said.


Plagiarism is one of the chronic illnesses in Chinese academia. Several such cases of it involving recognized scholars have been uncovered in recent years.


Some experts blame an imperfect Chinese academic evaluation system, which puts excessive emphasis on how many books a scholar writes and how many papers he publishes, as the root cause of academic inferiority.


China made an effort to fight academic corruption last year, though its effectiveness remains to be seen. The Ministry of Education issued new criteria in 2004 for publication in philosophy and the social sciences.


Regarded as the first "constitution" in Chinese academia, the regulations forbid plagiarism, encourage high-level research and require academics to shoulder legal responsibilities.


(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2005)


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