[BEIJING] China's main critic of scientific misconduct has been found guilty of libelling a scientist he accused of academic wrongdoing.
It is the first time that someone has sued Fang Shimin — also known as Fang Zhouzi — who claims to have exposed hundreds of cases of plagiarism, academic fraud and pseudoscience on his New Threads website (see Out to debunk: China's 'science police').
On 25 July, Jianghan District Court in Wuhan ruled that Fang had libelled Xiao Chuanguo, a professor of surgery at Wuhan-based Huazhong University.
In September 2005, Fang published an article criticising Xiao's selection as a candidate for membership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
It said that CAS members must work full-time in China, but that Xiao worked both at Huazhong University and the New York University Medical Center, United States.
Fang also said Xiao had exaggerated his academic achievements by including presentations listed in conference proceedings among his international publications. Publications are an important indicator of academic output in China, but conference proceedings tend to publish short summaries of research rather than full papers.
Xiao immediately sued for libel, and the court subsequently ruled that Fang had no evidence for his claims. It ordered Fang make a public apology and pay Xiao 30,000 yuan (US$3,750) in compensation.
Between Xiao suing and the court case taking place, CAS members voted against Xiao joining their number.
Xiao told SciDev.Net that he believes the outcome of his case could help to create a better working environment for China's scientists.
Liu Huajie, an associate professor of philosophy of science at Peking University, says the case shows that independent 'science police' like Fang are not equipped to collect evidence of scientific misconduct.
But Fang, who is appealing to the Intermediary Court of Wuhan, says the ruling will not stop him.
"Individual science police are certainly insufficient but without an institutional way to fight the scandals, giving up would mean misconduct would continue," he told SciDev.Net.