Academic fraud

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, February 14, 2011
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It is nothing glorious, but it is worth celebrating. The Ministry of Science and Technology has finally decided to recall a prestigious prize it awarded in 2005 to former professor Li Liansheng of Xi'an Jiaotong University. The thesis on scroll compressor design involved serious plagiarism, the award was unjustified and the economic benefits the professor claimed for the design were untrue, according to an official statement by the ministry.

This is a disgraceful first in the short history of the National Science and Technology Awards. But it is a badly needed warning against the prevailing malpractices in domestic academia, which, many hope, will serve as a de facto "declaration of war" on such dishonest activities.

Congratulations to the six former colleagues of Li's, who, since late 2007, have persistently tried to expose Li's cheating. They turned out to be among the very few whose accusations have not fallen on deaf ears.

The Ministry of Science and Technology, too, deserves a pat on the back for taking their accusations seriously. It would not have been difficult for the ministry to ignore the reports, as some others have done - and keep doing - in order to avoid the embarrassment of acknowledging and correcting a mistake for which it was partially responsible.

Since the scandal involves the country's top awards honoring achievements in science and technology, and a substantial sum of prize money and subsequent benefits, there have been calls to initiate a judicial investigation. Which is certainly worth consideration.

Prior to the Ministry of Science and Technology recalling the award, Li had been fired by Xi'an Jiaotong University. But that does not appear to have had an adverse effect on his career - as Li is reportedly a deputy head of a major State laboratory on compressor technologies. People have reasons to question the appropriateness of the appointment, as surely professional integrity is as important in the business world as it is in academia.

For that reason, we urge the Ministry of Education to respond to Li's colleagues and review his qualifications as a Cheung Kong Scholar, an honorary title it awards to outstanding college professors. His deeds seem morally unfit.

The Ministry of Science and Technology should not only take back everything it awarded to Li, it should also look back and reflect on what has gone wrong in the award process. It is important to clarify whether the prize awarded to Li was the result of neglect, or, as some are suspecting, other "irregularities". The fact that it has taken three years for the decision to come seems a bit strange.

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