Mon, Sep 23, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Academic ethics must be upheld in Taiwan

By Lin Juhn-jong 林志忠

In spring last year, a thesis falsification case was reported, with former director of Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and distinguished research fellow Chen Ching-shih (陳慶士) found falsifying data and committing research misconduct.

After an investigation that took more than a year, the Ministry of Science and Technology shared their findings, which, surprisingly, not only concealed Chen’s name, but also issued a light penalty, suspending his rights for only five years and retracting NT$600,000 (US$19,367) in grant money. Academia Sinica itself remains silent.

In connection to this breach of academic ethics, many issues immediately come to mind:

First, from being hired by Academia Sinica in 2014 to his resignation after the case was exposed last year, Chen served as a full-time distinguished researcher and director of the institute, with a monthly salary of probably several hundred thousand NT dollars. During this period, he was also a professor at Ohio State University.

Second, Chen was in charge of more than NT$40 million in ministry research grants for projects he led, but the amount of internal Academia Sinica funds that he was in charge of or in direct control of during his years of service there remain unknown.

Third, Chen is likely to have participated in many large domestic research programs and served as judge or reviewer for academic awards. Who might have benefited from his judgement and who might have encountered their downfall because of it?

Academia Sinica and the ministry have an undeniable responsibility to publish a detailed report addressing these issues.

The case brings to mind a forgery scandal from November 2016, when medical research papers published by National Taiwan University (NTU) professor Kuo Min-liang’s (郭明良) research team were reported to contain forged research using duplicated images. Although many people were dissatisfied with how the case was handled, NTU made a good effort by holding several news conferences and issuing statements during the investigation to explain its progress.

Within a few months, NTU released an investigation report of more than 100 pages that showed the results in detail. The investigation process was bumpy and jerky, but it was a great step forward in how academic ethics issues are handled in Taiwan. Unfortunately, those lessons have faded from the public’s mind.

However, the past should not be forgotten, but should be a lesson and guide. The purpose of scientific research is to search for the truth and to resolve the profound mystery of how matters interact and function in the realms of nature and the universe. The spirit of science is to seek the truth.

Hopefully Academia Sinica — Taiwan’s most prestigious academic research institution — will soon release a professional and comprehensive report of the investigation into Chen’s case.

Lin Juhn-jong is a professor at National Chiao Tung University’s Institute of Physics and Department of Electrophysics.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming

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