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Research fraud in China: The weak spot of totalitarianism?

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The current scandal over tons of apparently faked immunology research implicates Xuetao Cao, the Chinese chairman of research integrity:

There is also legitimate concern that totalitarian governments do not create an environment in which science can flourish. Science requires transparency, it requires valuing method over results, and it should be ideologically neutral. These are not concepts that flourish under a totalitarian regime. Also, the scientists who get promoted to positions of respect and power are likely to be those who please the regime, by proving, for example, that their cultural propaganda is real. So the selective pressures for advancement do not prioritize research integrity.

Cao, I think, embodies all of this. This should not be viewed as an isolated incident, or even researcher. The very fact that Cao has risen to the highest heights of setting the standards for science in China means that we have to look at the systemic implications of this case.

There are a couple of other lessons we should note as well. First, and unfortunately, we need to look at all research coming out of China with an especially careful eye. The system is broken, and cannot be given the benefit of the doubt.

Steven Novella, “Scientific Fraud in China” at Neurologica Blog

Indeed. The central weakness of totalitarianism is that it exalts the powerful lie over the fact. But nature doesn’t reward that behavior. It may take a long or short time for the system to collapse (and other systems collapse for other reasons). But the insistence that 2+2=5 if the Party says so is a lethal flaw.


Will the machine crush the human spirit in the meantime? At Mind Matters News, we’ve been following Beijing’s high-tech attempts to suppress various people groups?

Hongkongers: The dread that lies ahead They fear the fate of the Uyghurs, under “complete video surveillance” They dread 2047 when Hong Kong comes completely under the jurisdiction of the Communist Party and is subject to the CCP’s rule of law rather than Hong Kong’s own laws under the current “one country, two systems” regime.

Tiananmen Square 30 Years On: Words Still Have Power Back then, students fought oppression via the fax. They depended on free media in Hong Kong to tell the world

Hi-tech Freedom Game in Hong Kong: Technology can oppress a people group or it can give them a voice
Can China really silence Hong Kong?

The unadvertised cost of doing business with China: It’s a big market, with one Big Player, and some strange rules. In China, censorship includes democracy, human rights, sex, George Orwell’s 1984, and Winnie-the-Pooh (because the stuffed literary bear has been compared by some Chinese bloggers to their President). Such censorship, say many, minimizes the value of the internet.

China: What You Didn’t Say Could Be Used Against You An AI voiceprint could be used to generate words never said.

In China, high-tech racial profiling is social policy. For an ethnic minority, a physical checkup includes blood samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and voice recordings. The Chinese government seeks a database of everyone in the country, not only to track individuals but to determine the ethnicity of those who run up against the law.

and

The internet doesn’t free anyone by itself. China is testing 100% surveillance on the Uyghurs, a strategically critical minority.

6 Replies to “Research fraud in China: The weak spot of totalitarianism?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Nah, this doesn’t have anything to do with “Communism”. Cutting corners is just a Chinese habit, evident long before Mao took over. Korea does the same thing on a lesser scale. Getting the job done matters more than observing all the protocols and processes.

  2. 2
    EricMH says:

    On the other hand, the Soviet Union ended up being an excellent demonstration of Goodhart’s law. Perhaps it is the same in this case.

  3. 3
    es58 says:

    Listening to the debate last night, as each gave their plans with hard numbers, eg give x to bottom third or to those who make less than 50k, my first thought was how people could find ways to abuse such rules.

  4. 4
    EricMH says:

    On an even broader and ironic viewpoint, AI is all about Goodhart’s law. AI can only be trained using an objective function, and hence why we get all kinds of weird and hilarious artifacts in AI systems. China is doubling down on AI to power their totalitarianism, and they end up with hilarious AI generated criminal offenses against billboards of their elite. If it weren’t so horrible in the human impact, the intersection of communism and technology would be perfect for a comedy of errors. Perhaps a comedy horror.

    And the icing on the cake is that the very research to build their Goodhart AI to power their Goodhart totalitarianism is itself being Goodharted up the wazoo.

  5. 5
    BobRyan says:

    Whenever Communists come to power, it never goes well for anyone within the country, except for the privileged Communists. In China, it is better to be a good socialist than a good engineer, which is why they need to steal everything they cannot get through other means. They have no interest in ability and believe people are interchangeable, except for those at the top. The same was true of the Soviet Union, which is why they had to steal everything in order to advance in any area.

    Communists make excuses as to why it has never worked every time it has failed. Venezuela is the most recent example and claim the oil prices took a hit, which lead to all the problems they face today. If the industry had taken such a hit as to devastate Venezuela, rather than communism failing again, then why did the same thing not happen to Norway and Russia? Both countries rely on oil to keep their economies afloat and both would have been just as devastated had it actually occurred.

  6. 6
    EricMH says:

    Communism is actually a scientifically testable hypothesis, and it has been falsified. The central claim is a mathematical claim, that the economy is inherently mechanical (i.e. operates entirely according to chance and necessity) and can ultimately be replaced by the mechanical bureaucracy and eventually an AI. This was Marx’s ultimate vision, he documented in a series of notes on machines called “The Fragment on Machines.”

    https://medium.com/@MichaelMcBride/did-karl-marx-predict-artificial-intelligence-170-years-ago-4fd7c23505ef

    Marx thought the process of capitalism was to replace human labor with machines, until ultimately all labor was mechanized. This led to the concept that the economy could be centrally managed once enough was mechanized. However, the fundamental scientific premise of Communism is that the economy is powered by labor, instead of human ingenuity is creating something de novo. Yet, quantitative analysis of economic growth, such as undertaken by Solow in the mid 1900s, shows the vast majority of GDP growth comes from innovation, not labor. Thus, Communism has been empirically falsified, and this is also why the ultimate reason the USA defeated the Soviet Union is because the Soviet Union went bankrupt.

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