China Issues New Academic Misconduct Rules

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If you have attended school here or taught at one, you know that China has academic misconduct problems. I’ve certainly seen my share of cheating over the years, so I’m generally happy to see a crackdown and/or issuance of new rules. But you’ll notice that these are a bit narrow:

China’s Ministry of Education on Wednesday issued new rules to supervise universities’ scientific research and academic activities in order to “effectively prevent and curb academic misconduct.” A statement on the ministry’s website said academic misconduct in higher educational institutions in recent years had drawn widespread attention, especially those incidents involving academics, awarded scholars and university leaders, the investigation of which lack standardized procedures. The ministry has decided to launch a campaign to tighten up regulation of schools during the country’s 12th five-year plan period (2011-2015), and promulgated relevant rules. According to the rules, schools are required to build systems inspecting original experiment data, publicizing academic achievement, handing in research materials before graduation or leaving posts, among other rules to boost the transparency of academic management. (Xinhua)

These rules deal with science and technology only. Insofar as S&T research involves specific practices, such as gathering data, it makes sense that these issues are dealt with differently. But separate rules? Certainly rules relating to S&T research can be folded into general misconduct regulations. What about data gathered by economists, sociologists, or doctors? And what about all the other disciplines out there?

If these rules are a way to emphasize S&T, then I think this is a weak approach. The message to students should not be that if you’re involved in an “important” area like innovative technology research, faking data is wrong, but if you study something like art history, misconduct is perhaps not a priority. I know that this is not the stated policy, but it seems to me to be lurking there.

Misconduct is a moral issue. Specific disciplines should not matter. If possible, general rules should be formulated that apply to all students, and those rules should be enforced across the board evenly.