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Wei Yang talks about research ethics in China on Nature

Jianliang Xiao's picture

Yang Wei wants to reform attitudes towards research ethics at Zhejiang University and across the country.

Yang Wei has an easy smile and a carefree, even distracted, air — but he takes such a solemn approach to life that his wife sometimes tells him to relax. “I take everything seriously,” he says.

The former materials scientist certainly took it seriously when, two years after he became president of Zhejiang University (ZJU) in Hangzhou, China, he faced a case of scientific misconduct that became a turning point for his presidency. In early October 2008, the editor of the International Journal of Cardiology discovered that figures in a manuscript by He Haibo, a scientist researching traditional Chinese medicine who had been hired by the ZJU only months before, were suspiciously similar to those in an article that He had published elsewhere. Confronted, He quickly owned up, submitting a 12-page confession to Yang on 26 October. 

Facing one of the best-publicized misconduct cases in China's recent history, Yang knew he had to act quickly. He personally wrote to all the editors of the journals involved. They supplied copies of copyright-transfer forms with all the co-authors' signatures, and Yang sent them to the national calligraphy centre. “Most signatures were identical to He's own,” says Yang. “Even I could tell that.”

In March 2009, the ZJU fired He, terminated the contract of Wu Limao, a co-author on several of He's papers and the laboratory head in Li's absence, and took away Li's dean-ship and graduate students.

Yang didn't stop there: he launched a campaign to make the ZJU more responsive to misconduct. With an energetic companion named Yuehong (Helen) Zhang cracking down on the university's journals (see ‘Policing the plagiarists’), and assistance from a group of university administrators who share his determination and commitment to a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct, Yang hopes to make the ZJU into a role model that can help to clean up China's reputation for rife scientific misconduct. That reputation, exacerbated in the past five years by a string of high-profile cases (see Nature 441, 392–393; 2006), has made observers and journal editors increasingly sceptical of the ability of Chinese research institutions to ensure trustworthy science. 

Yang, who now tours the country giving lectures on scientific integrity, has established a reputation as the most evangelical of the reformers. His collaborators are impressed. “He is committed to cleaning things up at Zhejiang,” says Mark Frankel, director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC, who is working with Yang to improve research ethics. Frankel says that efforts such as Yang's are driving change. “What is most impressive is how open and willing the people with whom I work in China are to admit that a serious problem exists, and that they are committed to turning things around for the younger generation of scientists,” he says.

 Here is the link to the full article:


buiquanghien's picture

Dear collegues,

The author of this article is David Cyranoski. You can see his others famous articles on Nature:

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