Cheating pays in China, analysts say


Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 10

The scandal of a Chinese scientist who lied about his inventions is just the tip of the iceberg in an academic environment where, analysts said, incentives to cheat are great -- and the risk of being found out is small.

"There's so much government focus on this, so much funding ... The way to get government funding is to come up with something that the government has singled out as desirable for China," said a Beijing-based Western industry expert who requested anonymity.

"Nobody's going to pay much attention to the process of how you develop the thing," he said.

Chen Jin (陳進), dean of the micro-electronics school at the prestigious Shanghai Jiaotong University, was fired after a government investigation found he had faked research on his Hanxin series of digital signal processing chips, authorities announced last Friday.

The case was discovered only after a colleague blew the whistle and after Chen, 37, had received large grants from the government and was praised as one of the country's top young scientists. He used another company's research and claimed it as his own.

Analysts said the case shows there are many pitfalls as the government strives to encourage its top schools and industries to come up with their own technological inventions to help the country catch up with the West.

Pressure on scientists and academics is also intense, leading some to take shortcuts, analysts said.

"In the past, academics were evaluated through a long process of monitoring their work. Nowadays ... there is pressure to show results quickly," said Fan Peilei, a Chinese postdoctoral fellow at the United Nations University in Yokohama, Japan, who specializes in China's high-tech industries.

"The salary now is based on how many papers you issue, what new inventions you come up with," she said.

However there is no domestic or overseas system to scrutinize Chinese researchers' work, Fan said.

"In Western countries, it's very open. With Chinese research, partly due to the language problem and lack of recognition that China can invent anything good, there is no one properly checking the work," she said.

"If there's some claim that some scientist invented something, there's no proper international review system ... The domestic supervision system is also not mature," Fan said.

An unnamed Internet commentator said online that the root of the problem is China is too anxious to catch up with technologically advanced countries.

"Few people ... recognize reaching the level of the West is a long-term process," he said.

There are fears the case could bring Chinese inventions into disrepute.

"This will have a negative impact on the whole chip industry," said Zhang Ming (張明), of Hangzhou Guoxin Science and Technology Co (杭州國芯科技), which develops computer chips for satellites and cable TV.

The government's current five-year plan for the period until 2010 places special emphasis on developing an innovation-driven economy to rely less on simply being the world's factory for low-cost goods.

At the same time, complaints about academic corruption have been more vocal.

Encouragingly, there are signs that the government is finally waking up to the problem.