ACADEMIA

Nanjing professor withdraws from fellowship race to investigate rival for academic fraud

Eminent physics professor Wang Mu to investigate colleague Wen Hai Hu

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 9:46am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 9:46am

A prominent physics professor at Nanjing University, Wang Mu, 51, announced on his blog on Monday his intention to withdraw from this year’s selection race for new members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), a title only given to leading scientists and academic authorities in China.

His decision has shocked many in Chinese academic circles. To many, the reason behind it is even more shocking. Wang has withdrawn from the race so he can investigate another candidate, his colleague, 49-year-old physics professor Wen Hai Hu, for alleged academic fraud.

On September 15, Wang informed the Division of Mathematics and Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences that in May Wen had published a fraudulent research paper in Nature Communications, a journal focusing on advancements in the field of physical, biological and chemical science.

According to Wang, three co-authors of the published paper didn’t participate in any of the experiments or analysis mentioned in it, and they had never seen the article before it was published. Wang said that in July this year the editorial department of Nature Communications had received a request from the three co-authors to remove their names from the paper.

Wang told Chinese financial news outlet Caixin that as soon as he had withdrawn from the selection process, there would no longer be any conflict of interest, so he could better express his opinion.

“In this era when people are anxious to achieve quick success and get instant benefits, I think it is necessary to remind ourselves that no one should ever challenge the bottom line of the moral standard in scientific research,” wrote Wang in his blog. “I decided to withdraw from the selection so I can help raise awareness of moral standards in scientific research, and hope to receive a just conclusion regarding this alleged academic fraud scandal.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Wen responded to the accusation in a blog post claiming that he was strongly against academic fraud as well as falsification of evidence. He also said that he “detests those who exaggerate non principle problems to achieve their own goals.”

Wen declined to discuss the matter with the South China Morning Post saying, “I think this scientific question should wait for the academic board to judge.”

While many were disappointed by Wang’s decision, some questioned his motive, which provoked further discussion on whether the CAS member system should be abolished.

“As far as I know, it is a close race between them. To Wang, Wen has become an obstacle on his path to promotion. The fact that Wang bypassed the university and reported to CAS directly has killed Wen’s hopes of becoming a member of CAS. The last thing CAS wants is to see a dirty fight,” a commenter posted on sciencenet.cn.

On October 13, the Ministry of Education of China ordered Nanjing University to investigate the scandal. And the Chinese Academy of Sciences also formed a team to conduct an independent investigation.

The selection of new members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences takes place every two years. This year the process started in January, and, so far, there are 391 candidates. The results will be published at the end of the year. According to the CAS website, at the end of 2008, there were 692 CAS members, including 40 female members, and 134 from the Division of Mathematics and Physics.