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Dr. Xin Ge: A few comments on Dr. Zachary Burton’s “Support for Dr. Shi-min Fang” (1866 查看)

November 09, 2012 07:34AM
A few comments on Dr. Zachary Burton’s “Support for Dr. Shi-min Fang

August 8, 2001 9:05 PM

In my previous message, I tried my best to washes off the label “Fang’s enemy.” However, Dr. Burton went one step further, labeling me (I was one of the two direct recipients of his message) as “Dr. Fang’s political opponents.” As far as I know, Dr. Fang did a pretty good job in hiding his political positions in China, and he has said many times that one feature of his New Threads is “Not talking about politics.” (Original words:“‘不谈政治’是《新语丝》创办时就定下的办刊方针。”). And as far as I know, I myself don’t have much interest in politics, and I rarely talked about political matters in public. The fact is, “Fang’s opponents,” if we use that term in the sense of “Fang’s critics,” have such broad and different political opinions and positions, from communism to liberalism to capitalism, whenever they discuss political matters, they fight against each other like they are unable to live under the same sun. So, my question to Dr. Burton is: what do you exactly mean by saying “Dr. Fang’s political opponents”?

Whatever Dr. Burton meant, I think the logic for his using that label is this: the plagiarism allegations were made by Dr. Fang’s enemies, so they are not credible, or should not be dealt seriously. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) If such logic is valid, then a conclusion like the following is inescapable: the American political system is invalid, since Republicans and Democrats are by definition “political opponents,” so their criticisms against each other are all pointless, worthless, and American people should “have no interest in the efforts.” Do you think that’s right, Dr. Burton?

On the other hand, if Dr. Burton’s argument prevails, then Dr. Fang could never be wrong, because he could simply label any his critics as his “political opponents,” without providing any evidence. However, according to the popular philosopher Karl Popper, any such a theory or argument is by definition pseudoscience. Isn’t Dr. Fang one of the most celebrated anti-pseudoscience fighters in the world?

My final argument is, if Dr. Burton’s argument is valid, then thousands of Chinese people would automatically lost their human rights of criticizing Dr. Fang, since the “Fraud Fighter Fang” claimed he has busted more than a thousand academic fraud cases. Whether his claim is believable or not is a different matter (In January 22 of this year, I challenged Dr. Fang to publish a list of one hundred of the more than one thousand cases. So far, he has yet to accept this challenge.) Let’s assume the one thousand cases are fraud indeed. Does this “fact” makes the at least one thousand people (as a matter of fact, the number could easily surpass a million mark, because Dr. Fang has repeatedly called ALL Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors “cheaters,”) not eligible to criticize Dr. Fang? How so?

I’d like to comment the rest part of Dr. Burton’s message, but I’m afraid that will make this post too long. I stop here to wait for Dr. Burton’s response.


Xin Ge

Part II

August 10, 2011 8:19 AM

Dr. Burton’s second point is that Dr. Fang was a good student, and his Ph.D. thesis was of high quality. As any people can see, these statements, true or not, are really irrelevant to Dr. Root-Bernstein’s Open Letter. Further, if “the [discrediting] efforts of Dr. Fang’s political opponents” are worthless, won’t it make “the [eulogizing] efforts of Dr. Fang’s supporters” equally so?

However, I still like to discuss Dr. Burton’s points of view, because Dr. Burton’s praise of Dr. Fang has been used extensively by Fang to promote himself in China. What if Fang’s mentor over-valued him or his work? After all, skepticism is one of the components of so called “scientific spirit.”

My first argument is, Dr. Burton failed to explain his standard of “good quality” and “high quality.” According to Dr. Fang’s own confession, made in 2000, when he did his Ph.D. research, it took him only one day to plan a whole year’s research experiment. (The original words: “我们将分子生物学实验称为‘实验台工作’(bench work),并不需要动什么脑筋,花一天时间就能把一年要做的实验全都想好……”。) So, he had done at most a few days’ brain work at MSU on his Ph.D. thesis, the rest was just what he called “bench work”. Since Fang also spent huge amount of time on the Chinese internet during that time, (the case in discussion is a very good example to show this point, but I also want to point out the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Fang’s Chinese posts during that period preserved on the internet right now,) I, as a veteran biologist, have much difficulty to link these facts to Dr. Burton’s evaluation of Dr. Fang’s work.

The fact is, Dr. Fang’s “good quality thesis” was entitled “The Structure and Function of Human RAP30, the Small Subunit of General Transcription Factor TFIIF,” and his “high quality research paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry” was entitled “RNA Polymerase II-associated Protein (RAP) 74 Binds Transcription Factor (TF) IIB and Blocks TFIIB-RAP30 Binding.” One might wonder why the “good quality thesis” of RAP30 ends up to a “high quality research paper” of RAP74? This had been a mystery to me. After some literature research, I think I have solved the puzzle: months before the publication of Dr. Fang’s paper, another group from Oklahoma published a much “high[er] quality research paper” in PNAS, on the same topic. (See: Tan, S. et al. PNAS 92:6042-6046.) Comparing this PNAS paper with Fang’s unpublished results in his thesis, I could easily tell that the quality difference between the two is indeed much larger than that between JBC and PNAS. (For example, the way how they made their mutation clones: Fang used the simplest and most primitive method, and Tan’s group used the most advanced method available at that time.)

As far as I know, a research paper on human RNA Polymerase II is seldom published in journals below JBC, because that enzyme has been one of the hottest spots in biological research for the last 50 years or so. Dr. Tan S., the first author of above mentioned PNAS paper, was a graduate student at University of Oklahoma, and he published 3 “high quality research paper” during 1994-1995, 2 of them in PNAS, 1 in JBC. Even Dr. Wang Bo Qing, another Dr. Burton’s Chinese student who was at MSU during 1992-1995, published three JBC papers, in addition to two papers in Protein Expr Purif. If Dr. Burton gives Dr. Fang’s Ph.D. thesis research a “good quality” or “high quality” mark, then what kind of mark Dr. Wang, or Dr. Tan, should receive from Dr. Burton? The irony is, Dr. Fang’s JBC paper was mainly based upon RAP74 clones made by Dr. Wang, and yet, Dr. Wang was not one of the authors of that “high quality research paper.” It is rather hard for me to understand that.

It is equally difficult for me to understand Dr. Burton’s this sentence: “Transcription Factor for RNA polymerase II (TFII)F still interacts with TFIIB.” To me, it looks like Dr. Burton was giving the credit of such discovery to Dr. Fang. However, the fact is, this discovery was first published by a New Jersey group in 1993, 3 years before Fang graduated from MSU, (See: Ha, et al. Genes Dev. 7:1021-32), and Fang’s work was an extension of that discovery. Even Dr. Fang himself acknowledged this fact by citing that paper, saying “This N-terminal region of TFIIB binds the RAP30 subunit of TFIIF and also RNA polymerase II.” (See: Fang, SM and Burton, Z. JBC 271:11703-11709.) It is unthinkable if Dr. Burton was unaware of these facts.

My final point is, whether a biochemistry experiment “has passed the test of time” or not, it has nothing to do with the fact that if an essay on philosophy of science is plagiarized. Dr. Fang was trained in biochemistry for more than 5 years in a very reputable academic institution, and it is very reasonable to expect such a person with such a training to publish such a paper. However, Dr. Fang has no training whatsoever in philosophy of science. And his ignorance in this area is so astonishing that whenever he tries to write his own sentences, he would have a high probability of getting something wrong. Then, the question is: without copying Dr. Root-Bernstein’s paper, how could Dr. Fang write his What Is Science?

I’ll comment on Dr. Burton’s final point later, and wait for Dr. Burton's reply patiently.


Xin Ge

Part III

August 11, 2011 10:43 PM

In Dr. Burton’s 123-words message, only the last 26 words are relevant to Dr. Root-Bernstein’s Open Letter: “If there is merit in Dr. Root-Bernstein’s accusations, I fail to see it. Dr. Fang has responded to Dr. Root-Bernstein in a reasonable and measured way.”

Dr. Root-Bernstein’s Open Letter contains more than 1,600 words. He based his argument on The Universal Copyright Convention, and concluded the letter by asking for a simple apology from Dr. Fang. In his letter, I see knowledge, wisdom, fairness, and forgiveness. I wish one day I could have the wisdom, and most importantly, the heart to write an article like that. To my disappointment, however, Dr. Burton refuted this 1,600-plus words letter with only 13 words. I find it even more disturbing that Dr. Burton “fail[ed] to see” merit in the letter.

Dr. Burton’s another valuable 13 words were used to praise Dr. Fang’s 268-words response to the Open Letter: “Dr. Fang has responded to Dr. Root-Bernstein in a reasonable and measured way.” I have long learned through my education in China and in the United States that a “reasonable” response to an allegation in the instant case should be detailed and supported by credible evidence. The defendant should point out that which factual evidence in the Open Letter is untrue, which inference in the Open Letter is not logical, and which definitions or legal codes in the Open Letter are misinterpreted or misquoted. However, Dr. Fang did none of these. What he did was to distort the facts, to attack his “political opponents,” and to mock Dr. Root-Bernstein. And he did all these things in those 268 words. What a “measured way!”

Let’s take a look at how Dr. Fang distorted facts. Fang wrote: (the original version of his essay) “was an informal, casual follow-up to a discussion thread, not an academic paper or assignment.” The fact is, the original, without attribution version of this article, posted online in May 19, 1995, was the most formal, most intact, and most read version. This version had been re-posted by Fang himself in Nov. 7, 1995, then in Dec. 8, 1997, and had been kept permanently in his collection of poems and essays on his New Threads website since 1998 until Oct. 19, 2010 when he secretively altered the webpage.

According to Dr. Fang, the New Threads used to have a half million hits per day. But in the two of Fang’s books he said he “cited the source” and “gave reference,” one printed 20,000 copies, and the other, only 3,000. So, if Fang’s attribution to Dr. Root-Bernstein in 2000 and 2007 was truly from his heart, then why didn’t he modify his webpage earlier? Why didn’t he authorize the other website use the “revised and formally published” version of the article in September 2000, when that version was already available? Why didn’t he just simply say that the 4-criteria theory was the intellectual property of Dr. Root-Bernstein’s, whenever he mentions it in newspapers or online posts?

Here is the timeline of Dr. Fang article What Is Science (Please see attachment for detail):

Version I: Original, most intact, most popular version, without attribution. (Exists online from May 1995 to October 2010.)

Version II: Modified version I, inserting “according to the summary by Root-Bernstein,” deleting “currently, the Science of Sciences generally thinks.” (Exists only in book Fangzhou Online, published in 2000.)

Version III: Partial presentation of the 4-criteria theory, without attribution. (Exists online and in newspapers from Mar. 2000 to Aug. 2007.)

Version IV: Partial presentation of the 4-criteria theory, with attribution and full citation. (Exists only in book Criticizing Traditional Chinese Medicine, published in 2007.)

Version V: Secretly modified version I, inserting “according to the summary by Root-Bernstein,” but keeping “currently, the Science of Sciences generally thinks.” No citation. (Exists online since October 2010.)

In summary, since 1995, Dr. Fang has had at least 11 occasions he could attribute Dr. Root-Bernstein, but he only did it twice. He had more than 15 years to correct his wrong, but he only did it when he learned that a complaint had been filed in October 2010. In fact, in both his newspaper and online articles, Fang repeatedly claimed, many times right after he just attributed Dr. Root-Bernstein in a book, that the essay was his, and the 4-criteria were summed up by himself. Yet in his response to the Open Letter, he said “I never presented the criteria as my own original idea.” What a lie!

The fact is, when Fang “cited the source as ‘According to the summary by Root-Bernstein’” in 2000, he did not give Dr. Root-Bernstein’s affiliation, did not give any information about Dr. Root-Bernstein’s paper, and did not give any information about the book in which the paper appeared. So he DID NOT cite the source. Further, when Dr. Fang “gave reference as ‘On Defining a Scientific Theory: Creationism Considered, Robert Root-Bernstein, Science and Creationism, Oxford University Press, 1984’” in 2007, he did not mention his What Is Science essay directly, so most readers of that book won’t know the relationship between the two. In other words, DR. FANG HAS NOT FULLY AND COMPLETELY CORRECTED HIS WRONG YET. Did Dr. Fang do these thing “in a ……measured way”? Only he can tell.

Sure, if this case is the only alleged plagiarism committed by Dr. Fang, I don’t think it could generate such a big stir. The fact is, more than 60 such cases that involve Dr. Fang have been identified so far, and more than 50% of these cases involving translating English directly into Chinese. In an article published in 2002, Dr. Fang plagiarized more than 3,000 words from two books by Drs. Stephen. J. Gould and A. K. Dewdney, respectively. That case was reported by a Chinese newspaper, but Fang has never defended himself. In another article published in 2006, Dr. Fang basically translated French scientist Michel Raynal’s webpage, including its three exclamatory marks. In 2008, after Sichuan earthquake, Fang became the most famous earthquake expert in China, and one of his seismology popularization articles was essentially a direct translation of Dr. Mark Buchanan’s book, Ubiquity: out of 35 sentences of that article, only 1 sentence has no corresponding English sentence by Dr. Mark Buchanan. Has Dr. Fang ever mentioned these names in any versions of these articles? Never!

Fang’s plagiarism activity continues till today. As recent as three weeks ago, in July 19, 2011, Ms. Hao Xin, a Fang’s longtime supporter, who has written several pro-Fang articles for Science magazine, exposed yet another case: in Fang’s The Blending of Science and Liberty, which was published in Xinhua Daily Telecommunication in July 15, 2011, not only the main theme of the article, but also many detailed stories, were supposedly copied from Timonthy Ferris’ book, The Science of Liberty. And of course Dr. Fang did not mention his source. Ms. Hao was shrewd enough that she did not directly accuse Dr. Fang of plagiarism, but the title of her article is resounding: “It Is Not Good That Fang Zhouzi Writes His Articles This Way.” (Original words: “方舟子这样写文章不好.”). How ironic that the most famous science writer for the last ten years in China is being taught how to write by a Science contributor!

(To be continued.)

Xin Ge

Part IV

August 13, 2011 9:55 PM

Now let’s take a look at how Fang attacked his “political opponents” in his response to Dr. Root-Bernstein. Fang labeled me and his other opponents as “the supporters of Xiao Chuanguo, the surgeon who hired assailants to attack me using pepper spray and hammer after I exposed his malpractice.” Who is Xiao Chuanguo? Why did Dr. Fang bring Xiao Chuanguo into this case? In short, Dr. Xiao was the very first person who reported the very first identified Fang’s plagiarism case to Science magazine in 2001. Dr. Fang has been chasing and defaming Dr. Xiao ever since, accusing him of various frauds. So far, there are more than 800 articles published on the New Threads, among them many are written by Fang himself under different fake names, attacking Dr. Xiao, his family, his mentor, personally. (See: [www.xys.org]).

But the truth can be easily found out by reading this chronicle, “A list of the facts that Dr. Xiao Chuanguo is a victim of long term character assassination and framing by Fang Zhouzi and his gang of New Threads,” which I posted online last October, and Fang has yet to refute it. It is actually even much easier for the Spartans to find out the truth about Dr. Xiao’s “malpractice:” Dr. Kenneth Peters, Chairman of Urology Department at Beaumont Hospital, which is about 100 miles away from East Lancing, is the best expert witness available. Right after Dr. Xiao’s arrest in last September, Dr. Peters led more than thirty urologists around world to send an open letter to Chinese government to show their support to Dr. Xiao’s medical research and practice. It only takes a phone call, or a few clicks of internet search engine, to find out who is “mal-practicing.”

As for me, let me tell the world one more time: I have never met Dr. Xiao before, and I don’t have a plan to meet him in the future. But I am proud of being a supporter of Dr. Xiao.

So, why did Dr. Fang bring Xiao Chuanguo into this case? The answer to this question is very simple. Labeling and defaming have been Fang’s basic tactics to fight off his “opponents.” If anyone dares to criticize him, Fang would do anything he can to label that person as a plagiarizer (e.g. Tsinghua University Science History professor Liu Bing, who criticized Fang’s scientism), a fraud (e.g. Beijing University Philosophy of Science professor Liu Huajie, who wrote a journal article to expose one of Fang’s plagiarism cases), a corrupted person (e.g. China University of Political Science and Law American Study professor Yang Yusheng, who criticized Fang’s double-standard), a pseudoscientist (e.g. a group of seismologists who criticized Fang’s ignorance and unlawful activities), or even a bootlicker of Chinese communist government (e.g. Indiana University Biology professor Fu Xin-yuan, who wrote an open letter against the interference of academic research by a layperson in the name of “Fraud Busting.” The letter was signed by 120 Chinese scholars around the world, and reported by Nature magazine. See: Cyranoski, D. Named and shamed. Nature 441, 392-393;Editorial. Finding fraud in China. Nature 441, 549-550.) Obviously because none of these labels fit me, then “the supporter of Xiao Chuanguo” seems the only one Dr. Fang could think of.

As for how and why such a label changed to “political opponents” by Dr. Fang’s mentor, I am still waiting for Dr. Burton’s explanation.

(To be continued.)

Xin Ge

Part V

August 15, 2011 8:28 PM

Now, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why Dr. Fang refuses to give Dr. Root-Bernstein a full apology.

In his response to the Open Letter, Fang wrote: “I never presented the criteria as my own original idea, nor did I copy your wordings. And when it's formally published, the source had been credited and cited. Therefore I don't think it consists of plagiarism or copyright infringement according to the common accepted definitions with which you disagree. But it's inappropriate not to explicitly credit you in my original posting, and I apologize for it.”

As I have already pointed out, the first sentence of the above paragraph is a complete lie. On multiple occasions, Fang claimed explicitly that he was the person who summarized the 4-criteria theory. Further, he has never fully and completely acknowledged the fact that the core of his essay, What IS Science, is virtually a verbatim translated version of Dr. Root-Bernstein’s On Defining a Scientific Theory: Creationism Considered. To most people, these simple facts should be enough to convict a plagiarizer. Then why Dr. Fang only apologizes for “it's inappropriate not to explicitly credit you in my original posting”? The reason, as he said, was that he has a set of “common[ly] accepted definitions” of plagiarism or copyright infringement.

The question is: Why didn’t Dr. Fang show us his so called “common[ly] accepted definitions”? Or, why didn’t he simply answer Dr. Root-Bernstein’s question: “how, exactly, do you define plagiarism and copyright infringement?” The answers to these questions are not simple, because Dr. Fang literally has two sets of such definitions, one set is used whenever he wants to “bust” other people; and the other is applicable only to himself.

Here are Fang’s definitions of plagiarism he uses to bust other people:

April 12, 2002: “What is plagiarism? That is to take other people’s written or translated words, hide the source, and sign your own name.” (Original words: “什么是剽窃?就是把别人撰写或翻译的文字,隐去来源,拿过来署上自己的大名。”)

Jan. 25, 2003: “The common trick used by plagiarizers is to modify a little bit in unimportant areas.”(Original words: “剽窃的常见手法就是在无关紧要的地方做点改动。”)

Jul. 24, 2003: “Taking intact paragraphs translated from other people as his own work is the same as plagiarism.” (“把整段整段的翻译当成自己的创作,与抄袭无异。”)

Feb. 14, 2007: “The second misunderstanding is, once you cite the source, you are allowed to copy other people’s wordings directly.” (Original words: “第二个误区是,只要注明了文献出处,就可以直接照抄他人的语句。”)

Feb. 19, 2008: “Such a large quantity of direct copying, even if you had cited the source, it still could be considered plagiarism.”(Original words: “如此大面积的照抄照搬,即使注明了出处也有剽窃之嫌。)

Dec. 10, 2008: “If you translate or compile foreign articles, but you don’t note them as such, rather, you publish them as your original articles, then that is plagiarism. The New Threads has exposed many such cases, how can I do such a thing?” (Original words: “如果是翻译、编译国外的文章,而不注明,当成自己的原创文章发表,那是剽窃行为,新语丝上揭露过很多,本人岂会去干这种事情?”)

March 23, 2010: “It is commonly accepted that an article which was translated directly from the English original is an act of plagiarism.” (Original words: “‘直接是英语文章翻过来的’却公认是抄袭。”)

Feb. 23, 2011: “The excuses used by plagiarizers are almost the same, that is, once they mentioned the sources in postscript or reference section, then it is okay to copy other people as much as they like.” (Original words: “抄袭者的借口都差不多,在后记、参考文献里说了,所以在正文里就可以放手抄了。”)

Here are Fang’s definitions of plagiarism he uses for himself:

Mar. 25, 2006: “So, Wu Guosheng’s accusation against me of stealing coyotejoy’s article is totally infamatory. ……He obviously doesn’t know anything about the difference between science popularization articles and academic research papers, and he applied the standards for the latter to the former. Academic research papers are required to give citations for every sentence, and required to give a detailed reference sources, but there is no such a requirement for science popularization articles or essays. This is true not only in China, but also all over the world.” (Original words: “可见吴国盛指控我抄袭coyotejoy文章,完全是侮蔑。……他显然完全不懂科普文章与学术论文的区别,以学术论文的标准来衡量科普文章。学术论文要 求句句有出处,必须详细列出文献来源,但是科普文章、随笔却没有这样的要求。不仅是中国的科普文章、随笔如此,全世界的科普文章、随笔也都如此。”)

Feb. 3, 2007: “In fact, even if my article was written completely based on Ying He’s serial articles, as long as I didn’t copy them by entire paragraphs, it should not be considered ‘plagiarism,’ because the standards of plagiarism for science popularization essays and journal papers are not the same.” (Original Words: “其实即便我这篇文章完全根据颖河的系列文章写成,只要不是整段地照抄,也称不上什么‘抄袭’,因为科普文章和论文的标准是不一样的。”)

Jan. 30, 2011: “The standards of plagiarism for science popularization essays and academic research papers are not completely the same. Because science popularization essays are generally written to introduce other people’s results, so even if the sources were not explicitly stated, the readers of the essays still wouldn’t think that the results belong to the essay authors. Therefore, it is not necessary to note the source of the ideas.” (Original Words:“科普文章和学术论文的标准不完全相同。因为科普文章一般是在介绍他人的成果,即使未做明确说明也不会被读者误会为是作者自己的成果,因此没 有必要一一注明观点的出处。” )

Now we know why Dr. Fang doesn’t have the guts to reveal his “common[ly] accepted definitions” of plagiarism to his MSU professors. As a matter of fact, even in China, Dr. Fang has never revealed his source of such “double standard.” He simply uses his “prominent position in Chinese society” to promote it. The truth is, Fang’s double standard is only “common[ly] accepted” by Fang and his followers; and besides Dr. Fang and his wife, no one else in China, especially no Fang’s "political opponents," could enjoy the amnesty or exemptions of plagiarism offered by Fang’s unique definitions.

In summary, all of my questions to Dr. Burton come down to the following two: if everything I said in my five-part response to your message is true, do you still like to reiterate your “support for Dr. Fang’s prominent position in Chinese society”? Do you still think “Dr. Fang has responded to Dr. Root-Bernstein in a reasonable and measured way”?

I certainly hope that Dr. Burton could give answers to these two questions, not only just to me, but also to many Chinese scholars; not only for the sake of yourself, but also for the sake of MSU, and your American colleagues.

Best regards.

Xin Ge, Ph. D.

Note: Dr. Burton never responded to my comments.
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Dr. Xin Ge: A few comments on Dr. Zachary Burton’s “Support for Dr. Shi-min Fang” (1866 查看)

亦明 November 09, 2012 07:34AM



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