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China targets an academic culture of cut-and-paste

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Plagiarism and sheer invention have flourished in Chinese academic circles, adds Stephen Stearns, a Yale University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who taught two classes at Peking University in 2007, because "at least until recently, the rewards were great and the punishment was trivial. It paid off."

Professor Stearns sparked a firestorm of debate here when his admonition to his Chinese students about their plagiarism was published on the Internet.

"There is a long tradition of plagiarism in Chinese universities," Stearns wrote in an e-mail last week. "Some Chinese professors actually teach their students to plagiarize."

Fang, who closely follows cases of what he calls "academic corruption," puts its prevalence down to a nexus of rampant capitalism, which has commercialized Chinese education; a lack of freedom of speech, which keeps the lid on scandals; and the tradition of saving face.

Others suggest that universities' policy of promoting teachers according to the quantity, rather than the quality, of their published output plays a role.

"Chinese academics are under pressure to publish," says Jeremiah Jenne, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis, who is currently studying in Beijing. "In the worst cases that means slapdash cut and paste jobs on other people's work.

"There is a lot of wink-wink, nod-nod amongst professors," Mr. Jenne adds. "So a lot of people take short cuts and get away with it."

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