Chinese Perspectives: Research Ethics

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Chinese Perspectives: RESEARCH ETHICS

In China discussions about research integrity occur in the context of studies of the interaction among science, technology, and society (STS). Such discussions are concerned not only with identifying various types of misconduct in scientific and technological research but also with the institutional reasons for such misconduct in management systems and social culture. In these contexts, scholars suggest measures to counter such misconduct. Their discussions focus mainly on three aspects of STS interactions as follows.

Definition and Prevention of Academic Misconduct

Fan Hongye (1982, 1994), a historian of science, defines "misconduct" according to international standards as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism to acquire recognition from scientific associations and societies for scientific research. This includes the fabrication or falsification of experimental data, unacknowledged use of others' research, and falsified reports of research results. This definition is generally accepted in academic circles throughout China.

Scholarly work on ethics in science began to develop in the 1980s. Fan's The Falsification of Scientific Results appeared in Chinese in 1982. William J. Broad and Nicholas Wade's 1982 book Betrayers of the Truth was translated into Chinese in 1988. Xu Shaojin published a monograph in Chinese entitled The Ethics of Science and Technology the following year.

As a result of such heightened awareness, since 1990 there have been many reports and criticisms of instances in which researchers, teachers, or graduate students falsified data or plagiarized others' data, such as the Hu Liming (a doctor and professor in Huadong University of Technology) plagiarizing case in 1997, and the Wang Mingming (a professor in Beijing University) plagiarizing case in 2002. Some scholars have pointed out that deficiencies in the system for managing scientific research lead to such misconduct. Others have suggested new laws, regulations, and rules governing scientific and technological research or improvements in systems of research management.

The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers

A central academic concern in China at the beginning of the twenty-first century is what kind of social responsibilities scientists and engineers should assume. Many scholars have noted that with increased academic freedom in China since the 1980s, scientists have more liberty to determine their research activities. If researchers do not exercise self-discipline and a high sense of responsibility, their research may adversely affect society. Zou Chenglu and Hu Qiheng, members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have argued this position, which has attracted much attention.

In 2002 the Chinese Academy of Sciences formulated and published "Self-Disciplining Standards of Scientific Integrity for Members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences," a statement of principles for protecting society, promoting science, and maintaining scientific integrity. Such Chinese works as those by Li Hanlin (1987) and Zhang Huaxia (1999) have analyzed the social responsibilities of scientists and engineers, and proposed measures to guard against weak moral discipline and lack of responsibility. Because of the complex nature of modern science and technology, society has little choice but to rely on technical experts to be responsible in their work.

Dissent as an Ideal in Chinese History

Research is most productive when academic dissent is possible. Academic debate is deeply rooted in Chinese history (though, it should be admitted, so is its opposite, authoritarianism). In the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 b.c.e.) and the Warring States period (475–221 b.c.e.), it was said that a hundred schools of thought contended. (That was before the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, who reigned China from 221 to 210 b.c.e., burned books and unified thought.) At other bright points in history, scholars such as Sima Qian (c. 145–c. 85 b.c.e.), Zhu Xi (1130–1200), and Wang Fuzhi (1619–1692) affirmed the truth, persuaded others by reason, and rejected political suppression of thought.

In 1956 Mao Zedong revived the principle of a hundred schools contending during the hundred flowers campaign. Though in the Soviet Union Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, from 1948 to 1953, successfully led a campaign to repress Mendelian genetics as antisocialist, biologists in China held a symposium on genetics in 1956 in Qingdao, where opposing parties objectively discussed biological research. Unfortunately, by mid-1957 some scholar criticism had been leveled against the leadership of Communist Party, with the result that Mao called a halt to the hundred flowers campaign and suppressed further criticism.

After 1978, when China opened up to the outside world, the pendulum again swung back, and China became an increasingly free and open society. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Chinese researchers enjoy considerable academic freedom. Indeed, the nation has again entered an age when a hundred flowers bloom together and a hundred schools of thought contend.


SEE ALSO Research Ethics.


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Yang Yusheng. (2002). "Xueshu piaoqie xianxiang: Women ying you de guanzhu yu fansi" [Academic plagiarism: What we should pay attention to and reflect on]. Shehui kexue luntan 4: 24–29.

Zhang Huaxia. (1999). Xiandai kexue yu lunli shijie [Modern science and the world of ethics]. Changsha, China: Hunan jiaoyu chubanshe.

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Zou Chenglu. (2002). "Kexuejia yu kexue yanjiu daode" [Scientists and scientific research integrity]. Minzhu yu kexue 1: 10–12.

Zou Chenglu, Shen Sanjiong, Wu Min, and Li Lin. (1991). "Zai lun kexue daode" [On scientific integrity, part 2]. Zhongguo kexue bao, 25 October 1991.

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Chinese Perspectives: Research Ethics

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