For the first time, the Chinese government has revoked a major technology award because the prize-winning work turned out to be fraudulent. Bloggers on a popular science site, ScienceNet.cn, are hailing the decision as a signal that the government is getting serious about cracking down on academic misconduct in China.
China's National Office for Science and Technology Awards announced this month that investigations have confirmed allegations of fraud in an award-winning project that won second prize in a 2005 competition. The project, which involved nine researchers under the leadership of Li Liansheng, formerly of Xi'an Jiaotong University (XJTU), claimed to have developed key technologies for a scroll compressor, useful for air conditioning, and to have successfully commercialized the product. The government has withdrawn the award certificates for this work and demanded the return of the prize money, roughly $12,000.
The government's decision is the latest blow to Li, who was fired by XJTU in March after being criticized by peers. Chen Yongjiang, an 83-year-old retired XJTU professor, and five colleagues accused Li of misconduct several years ago and sought to have the university reprimand him. According to Chinese news reports, the professors said university officials first tried to suppress their complaints but failed. The professors opened a blog under Chen's name on ScienceNet.cn in March 2009, after which the Chinese mainstream media picked up their cause. On 20 March 2010, Chinese Central Television looked into the controversy in a prime-time show, a 30-minute program called Focused Interviews that provides in-depth reporting and commentary on current events. XJTU fired Li the day after the program was aired.
When Chinese reporters sought to interview Li after the award was revoked, he responded that he did not wish to comment. Fang Shimin, the self-styled watchdog of academic corruption in China said Li is a small fry among those alleged to have committed research fraud: "It's much harder to punish those with higher ranks," Fang told Southern Daily newspaper.