Yunnan pupil loses controversial award on cancer research after fraud investigation

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/13 20:37:21 Last Updated: 2020/7/16 19:18:04

Screenshot from the CASTIC official website

The China Adolescents Science and Technology Innovation Contest (CASTIC) committee announced on Thursday that it decided to withdraw third prize for the work won at the 2019 contest, and take back the primary school pupil winner's medal and certificate, as it violated the competition rules.

The decision follows an announcement made by the committee of the Yunnan Adolescents Science and Technology Innovation contest on Wednesday which said it had decided to cancel the prize award for a cancer study submitted by a primary school student and withdraw the medal and certificate after professional evaluation.

China Adolescents Science and Technology Innovation Contest (CASTIC) also announced Wednesday that an investigation team has been set up to probe the case following suspicions that the child's parents helped him with the research. 

The student's father, surnamed Chen, released an apology letter on Wednesday, confirming the father-son relationship and saying that he had been "over-involved in the writing of the work." He also applied to return the awards.

Chen explained in the letter that his son obtained the main experimental data for the project through observation, learning and personal experiments, under the guidance of his instructor, parents and graduate students in their research group.

The Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences also announced on Monday that it has launched an investigation into the case. The institute said that the author is the child of a research fellow at the institute.

The work focuses on a colorectal cancer-related gene study, and won third prize at the 34th CASTIC, an annual event held by major institutions like the China Association for Science and Technology and Ministry of Education, which attracts around 10 million young contestants nationwide every year. The study also won first prize at the 34th Yunnan Adolescents Science and Technology Innovation contest in Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

The work was released on the CASTIC official website and its publicly-released information shows that part of it was carried out at the Kunming institute, with the only researcher a sixth grader, surnamed Chen, from the Panlong district of Kunming city, the capital of Yunnan Province, reported.

The pupil's work is based on a gene that Chinese researchers previously identified from domestic animals adaption to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau environment. A related study was published online in the National Science Review in December 2019.

Zhang Yaping and Chen Yongbin, two corresponding authors of the study, are from the Kunming institute, while another two are from the Yunnan Agricultural University and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

What's more, the research direction of Chen Yongbin, from the Kunming institute, overlaps with the content of the questioned study by the primary student, according to media reports.

The student also wrote in his experiment notes released online that he was brought into the Kunming institute to join research work with "Teacher Chen" and "Teacher Yang," who some netizens believed are parents of the young student as they helped him finish his work.

The child's experiment notes indicate that he had little knowledge about genes and even searched on the internet what genes are when beginning his research.

His work sparked wide questions considering the difficulty of the research and the young age of the author, with many questioning that it may have involved academic fraud. "He said he needs to check what gene is on internet, it is even dubious as to whether the child has learned anything about biochemistry," one netizen commented.

Some said that the level of the research is equivalent to that of graduate students or even doctoral students, majoring in medicine or life sciences.

"You seem to tell me that a two-year-old toddler can just walk and overtake Usain Bolt in the sprint. Doing hard research is not as good as having good parents," another netizen questioned.

"This is a misuse of precious national resources for personal gain, and it should be punished," one netizen commented.

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