Scourge of China's academic fakes attacked

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The Independent Online

Beijing police have arrested four men, including a professor, over a hammer attack on China's top "science cop", a whistle-blower famed for exposing religious fakes, academic charlatans and bogus researchers.

Fang Zhouzi was attacked last month, sparking immediate suspicions of a link with his "New Thread" website, which has built up a powerful reputation for highlighting academic fraud. "I will not stop battling pseudoscience," Mr Fang said after the attack, although he said he would be more cautious about his own safety in future.

The attackers temporarily blinded Mr Fang with pepper spray then hit him on the back with a hammer in the street as he returned home from a television interview on 29 August. He suffered minor injuries in the attack and has fully recovered. Police identified three men in early September using surveillance video and witnesses. The investigation was part of another inquiry into an attack on an investigative journalist, Fang Xuanchang, an editor of the financial journal Caijing, in June. The two Fangs – who are not related – had previously worked together, including on a story exposing a cancer medicine as fraudulent.

The three alleged assailants said they had been hired by Xiao Chuanguo, head of the Urology Department at Wuhan Union Hospital, according to police. Professor Xiao was arrested at Shanghai's Pudong airport on Tuesday.

Mr Fang had claimed that Professor Xiao had exaggerated his academic credentials, prompting a series of libel actions from Professor Xiao. All but one were thrown out.

Police said Professor Xiao confessed the attacks were revenge as he believed exposure by the two writers had caused him to lose out on an appointment to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Xiao allegedly told police he hired Dai Jianxiang, who arranged for two accomplices to help him to carry out the attacks.

Fang Zhouzi has made some powerful enemies with his high-profile campaigns to expose fakery in China. He has unmasked Beijing University professors using unfair means to grant students entry, and found evidence that a top geneticist had faked his diploma.

He also caused a furore when he accused Tang Jun, the former chief executive of Microsoft China, of fabricating his academic credentials in the US. Mr Tang has denied the allegations. Mr Fang's particular bugbear is fakery in Chinese traditional medicine and he goes after those who claim to be environmentalists but are without merit.

He says China is prone to such charlatans because there is a general ignorance about science, leaving the weakest members of society prone to abuse.

He is in a powerful position, as, in the absence of an independent media, exposing such trickery is difficult. The government is also concerned about the damage to China's reputation, particularly when some of the country's top academics are exposed as plagiarists.