Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Introducing: China's Scientific & Academic Integrity Watch blog

From Zachary Mexico's China Underground I learned of one Fang Shimin, a.k.a. Fang Zhouzi, an academic who has fought for scientific integrity in China. A quick Google search uncovered a blog inspired by (and devoted to) the man, called China's Scientific & Academic Integrity Watch, which is worth checking out.

Mexico, in citing Fang as an exception to the rule of academic dishonesty in China, makes an interesting assertion. Quoting:

Because critical thinking isn't encouraged or even valued in the classroom, when it comes time to write a paper, students have no original ideas to discuss in writing. So they find essays written by Westerners in English and then pass off others' ideas -- and sometimes even others' prose, translated into Chinese -- as their own. Of course, cheating occurs in every country. But in China, since no school wants its name tainted by a plagiarism scandal, professors tend to look the other way.

And even when liberal arts students at China's best universities write their own essays, the freshness of the ideas often seems like something that would be found in an American high school paper. (You'll see this, for example, in the "journals of the humanities" that are released annually or quarterly by the most prestigious Chinese universities, such as Shanghai's Fudan U.)

Even more flagrant is the way that this potentially-plagiarized, often-sophomoric work gets published in academic journals. According to Mary -- and many other critics of the Chinese educational establishment -- most of these journals accept cash bribes in exchange for publication.

Harsh. Either Mexico attended a really competitive and smart high school or he hasn't read some of the articles being passed off as serious work in America's scientific journals (American science = Chinese liberal arts? Eh? Must research further.)

You know my position as it relates to sweeping generalizations -- I vehemently disagree with them, which is easy to do in China because the vastness of the country and the diversity one uncovers with even a cursory search renders generalizations absolutely meaningless -- but I also have long understood China's education system needs reform. Of course, that's easier said than done, and considering how many people gaokao has lifted out of poverty, it's unlikely anyone will devise a better, fairer system (I say this knowing full well all the ways in which gaokao is not fair), and therefore it's unlikely we'll see any radically different teaching methods that emphasize critical thinking in Chinese schools anytime soon.

I've said this before (though probably not on the record, now that I think about it) and I'll say it again, I'm pretty certain the Chinese education system, with its emphasis on logic and rote memorization, would have crushed me -- my curiosity about the world and any semblance of creativity -- had I not escaped at an early age. But maybe that's just me.

I'll have more to say about Mexico's book at another time.

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