China's self-appointed science fraud buster was assaulted yesterday afternoon in Beijing. Fang Shimin, better known by his pen name Fang Zhouzhi, has used his Web site New Threads and his microblog to expose scientific misconduct, debunk crackpot medicine and pseudoscience claims, and catch cheaters who falsify resumes with fake degrees and nonexistent publications.
Fang has been slammed with libel suits contesting his often-acerbic exposés. But yesterday's attack—if it was linked to his antifraud crusade—takes things to a new level. According to Fang's account posted on New Threads, he came out of a teahouse near his apartment complex around 5 p.m. on Sunday with two TV journalists who had interviewed him about Li Yi, a Daoist abbot who has claimed to have performed supernatural feats. After Fang saw the journalists into a taxi, a man walked up and sprayed something in his face. When Fang ran across the street, a second man chased him with an iron hammer and threw it at his head. Fang dodged the hammer. The man picked it up and threw it again, hitting and bruising Fang in the back. After Fang ran into his apartment complex, the two men left and he called the police. As Science went to press, Fang had not responded to a request for comment, and the unidentified assailants remained at large. Beijing's police department confirms it has opened an investigation.
The incident has a disturbing precedent. In June, two men tried to kill science journalist Fang Xuanchang of the Chinese magazine Caijing. Fang Xuanchang is not related to Fang Zhouzi, but the two are friends and renowned for muckraking the seamy underside of Chinese science. The attack on Fang Xuanchang remains unsolved.