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Professor Root-Bernstein's open letter on Fang Shi-ming plagiarism

24 July 2013

Dear Dr. Fang,

What a joke! You threaten to no longer participate in this dialogue if I insist on making your emails to me, and mine in return, public? In the first place, what is the point of public letters, such as those that I have written, if they are not public? In the second place, since you have not participated in this discussion at all for quite some time, what difference does it make? Third, I thought your goal was to help China identify and reveal frauds wherever and whenever they occur, so why are you refusing to participate in an open discussion about what constitutes plagiarism and copyright infringement? And finally, and most importantly, how can you have the gall to demand that I keep private your emails to me when you have been attacking me and on your website and in the Chinese press behind my back this entire time? So, yes, this letter is going to everyone, and you can do as you like. You don't play by anyone's rules but your own anyway?

You ask where I got the figure that you have plagiarized as much as 90% of my article in yours and object that it could not possibly be more than 50%. Well, there's a simple answer: I apparently have never been shown your entire article, even by you! You will recall sending me your translation of your article. It does not appear to be complete. So if I have been misled as to the amount my material that may be in your article, you are as much to blame as anyone.

In any event, at least we are talking about how much of my article appears in yours. On this point, one of your self-proclaimed supporters (email attached) actually puts the amount of your article that matches mine at 60%. No matter how we look at it, everyone, including you, agrees that a substantial portion of your article is drawn from mine. So the issue becomes how much is too much? You have already admitted that there was sufficient commonality that you should have cited me as the source of your arguments in your original blog. So if there is that much commonality, how can you deny both plagiarism and copyright infringement? The reason for making this a public debate is precisely because the issue of how much is too much needs to be hashed out and your own admissions certainly help make my case against you.

You also claim that I am making up my own definitions of plagiarism and copyright infringement. I insist on pointing out with regard to this question that the criteria I am using in accusing you of plagiarism and copyright infringement are not something I have made up. Every major journal and every educational institution has guidelines regarding these points, all of which are very similar. If Chinese scholars, such as yourself, expect to participate in the worldwide culture of science, you must learn to abide by the standards set forth in these guidelines. I have attached one such set from the American Chemical Society. You will note that not only do YOU not have the right to reproduce my article, even I do not have the right to use more than 400 words from my own publication, nor can I use my own illustrations, without written permission from the journal. Copyright not only protects the author of a work, but also the publisher of that work! This raises a point that has not yet been discussed in our correspondence, which is that you have not only plagiarized and/or breached the copyright on my article, but also Oxford University Press, which published the book in which my chapter appears. Did you get their written permission to use my material?

Your only response to that issue so far has been to say that you are an expert on fraud and you know that you have not plagiarized me or violated my copyright. Yet you refuse to reveal the criteria you are using in making that decision, which not only leaves me in the dark, but also leaves the people of China in the dark about how you reach your conclusions regarding the fraudulent behaviors of anyone you accuse. And there is an additional problem: even if you get around to divulging your criteria, you can't be the judge in your own case. Indeed, you can't be the accuser, judge and jury in any fraud case and yet that is exactly the power you have attempted to accrue to yourself.

And here we get to the crux of the matter. I am far less worried about whether you have stolen some of my work than I am worried that you have set yourself as an unassailable and unregulated monitor of fraud in China. No individual should ever have the power that you have taken upon yourself. You have every right, and indeed every responsibility, as do I!, to point out fraud wherever you think it occurs, but you do not have the right to decide whether your accusations are valid. For you see, if you have that right, then so do I, in which case you would be guilty of plagiarism and copyright violations just because I said so. You clearly don't want that to be the case (nor do I), but you must learn from this controversy that you cannot have that power over others, either. The determination of fraud must lie in the hands of unbiased, disinterested parties, both in this case and in any other case you might bring or be accused of. I'm not sure who in China, or in the world, should decide how much of my work you should be permitted to use without permission, but I do know it is not you! My fondest hope at this point in time is that our controversy will lead to substantial changes in how fraudulent practices such as plagiarism and copyright infringement are handled in China and in who has the authority to handle such issues.



Fang Shi-ming, China's most noisy promoter of Monsanto's GM food, is repeatedly exposed for academic misconduct of plagiarism with little professional credential in bio research field.







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