Skip to comments.Yale Professor Criticizes Wide Spread Plagiarism at Peking University
Posted on 12/22/2007 8:40:24 PM PST by JACKRUSSELL
Since about 2000, a young man by the name of Fang Shimin, better known by his net-name Fang Zhouzi, has been fighting a lonely crusade exposing the many frauds in China's scientific and academic communities. His efforts has gained as many enemies as friends.
This blog follows his crusade.
Professor Stephen Stearns of Yale has spent this Fall at Peking University teaching two undergraduate courses on evolution. The school, also affectionately known as Beida, is one of the most prestigious universities in China. Today, a letter by him is circulating the school's BBS and a few other web sites in China. In the letter, Professor Stearns expressed great dismay in his discovery of plagiarism cases among his students (after his explicit warning, no less), as well as behaviors of the school and the country in ignoring international intellectual rights.
What I found particularly interesting is his observation that "The fact that I have encountered this much plagiarism at Beida tells me something about the behavior of other professors and administrators here. They must tolerate a lot of it, and when they detect it, they cover it up without serious punishment, probably because they do not want to lose face. If they did punish it, it would not be this frequent."
Indeed, Fang Zhouzi and New Thread had exposed quite a few plagiarism cases involving Beida professors in the past. None of them had received any adequate punishments.
Professor Stearns has confirmed to this blog that he is in fact the author of this letter. With his permission, the full text of the letter, taken from the New Thread web site , where a Chinese translation is also available, is presented here:
To my students in Beijing, Fall 2007:
While grading papers today I encountered two more cases of plagiarism. One was sophisticated but serious. The other was so blatant that it was almost unbelievable. That makes a total of three students who have failed my courses because of plagiarism.
If I had not warned you and given you the opportunity honestly to correct your essays, there would have been several more. I thank those of you who were honest and showed me what you had copied.
Plagiarism disturbs me greatly, both because it corrodes my relationship with you as my students, and because it tells me things about China and Beida that neither you nor I want to hear.
It corrodes my relationship with you because I work hard to be a good teacher, I take time to prepare good lectures, and I spend many hours providing detailed feedback on essays. It is hard work. You cannot imagine what it is like to correct the details of the 500th essay until you have done it yourself. I do that to help you learn to think more clearly, to express yourself convincingly, and to develop your intellectual power, your ability to understand the world. I also do it because I value you, I value your ideas, and I think the world will be a better place when you can all think clearly and behave intelligently. Later in life, some of you will be leaders with important positions. I want you to be competent and honest, for I have seen too often what terrible things can happen when leaders are incompetent and dishonest. Leadership aside, I want all of you to be able to create value in your lives, whatever you end up doing, and you cannot do that if you deceive.
When a student whom I am teaching steals words and ideas from an author without acknowledgment, I feel cheated, dragged down into the mud. I ask myself, why should I teach people who knowingly deceive me? Life is too short for such things. There are better things to do.
Disturbingly, plagiarism fits into a larger pattern of behavior in China. China ignores international intellectual property rights. Beida sees nothing wrong in copying my textbook, for example, in complete violation of international copyright agreements, causing me to lose income, stealing from me quite directly. No one in China seems to care. I can buy DVDs in stores and on the street for about one US dollar. They cost $20-30 outside China; the artists who produced them are losing enormous amounts of stolen income, billions of dollars each year. China has become notorious for producing defective products that have to be recalled because the pose health threats to consumers. A recent cartoon in an American newspaper shows the Central Committee reacting to an accusation that they have violated human rights. The response? "Wait until they see what we put in their toothpaste next!" Corruption is a serious problem in a booming economy. For example, in the mining industry, about 5000 miners die each year and mine owners cut corners in violation of the law. The social fabric breaks when workers die because owners are greedy. The Mandate of Heaven is lost.
China appears to have lost her way. Confucius said, do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. He also said, a gentleman is honest. Honesty and reciprocity are the basis of trust and community. We cannot get along in a world filled with deceit and defection; such a world becomes a Hobbesian war of all against all, nasty and brutal. We cannot do science if we cannot trust what others publish. There is no reason to try to replicate a result if it cannot be trusted. It would not be worth the effort. Without replication there can be no shared knowledge that is tested and trustworthy - that is, no science. Without science, there can be no technology. And without technology, there can be no steady increase in productivity, economic growth, and a better life for all.
The penalties for plagiarism that you will encounter later in life are very serious. If you do it as a graduate student, you can be expelled from university, and you will not get your degree. If you do it as a faculty member, you can lose your job. I know you may not believe that, for the sociology professor at Beida who translated an entire book into Chinese and published it with his name on it only lost his administrative positions but kept his professorship and salary. But things are not like that elsewhere. When plagiarism is detected in the United States, it can end the career of the person who did it. That is also true in Europe.
The fact that I have encountered this much plagiarism at Beida tells me something about the behavior of other professors and administrators here. They must tolerate a lot of it, and when they detect it, they cover it up without serious punishment, probably because they do not want to lose face. If they did punish it, it would not be this frequent.
I have greatly enjoyed teaching some of you. I have encountered young minds here that are as good as any in the world. Many of you are brave, most of you work very hard, most of you are honest, and some of you are brilliant. But I am leaving with very mixed feelings. It is quite sad that so many promising young Chinese think it is necessary to cheat to succeed. They damage themselves even more than the people from whom they steal and the people whom they deceive with stolen words.
Sincerely, Steve Stearns
. . . outright cheating is rampant on international standardized tests such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations).
But hey! Their students are much better educated than ours.. look at their degrees and GRE scores and all kinds of stuff.
Wow. Let's take the cap off the H1Bs.
Things like that makes me wonder how widespread it is here, and also makes me wonder if the reputation for intelligence and hard work among Asians in general is over-rated and over-blown. Just sayin'.
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