Maoming PX battle spills into edit war

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-7 23:38:02

Students from Tsinghua University staged an online battle in the past week about the "low toxicity" of paraxylene (PX), an important but controversial chemical product for industrial use.

While some applauded the students' courage to defend the purity of science, others speculated it was but a new round of propaganda by the authorities after clashes broke out on March 30 over a planned PX project in Maoming, Guangdong Province.

The entry of PX on Baidu Baike, an online encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia, experienced 35 modifications after a Guangdong-based Net user listed PX as "highly toxic" on the same day as protesters clashed with police in Maoming. 

The edit was reverted two hours later, leading to a hectic back-and-forth.

Seven students who say they're from Tsinghua's  chemical engineering department have participated in the edits.

On Saturday, Baidu Baike shut down the edit function of this entry, writing on its official Sina Weibo that it will invite experts to modify the entry for PX "with authority and accuracy to help people build a rational understanding."

The People's Daily covered the news on Sunday, declaring the battle a victory for the students, as the PX entry is locked at "slightly toxic."

The China Central Television (CCTV) also covered this at its prime-time news program Xinwen Lianbo on Monday, highlighting the positive effect of the students' acts.

This flared up online speculation that students were defending PX projects for the government. Some even commented that PX plants should be built next to Tsinghua "thanks to its low toxicity."

An anonymous engineer with the petrochemical plant in Maoming told the Global Times that the students should be praised.

"PX projects are like any other petrochemical plants with strict pollution control. In fact, the control will only get much stricter due to the public concerns," the engineer noted.

Ma Zhaoli, a chemistry laboratory technician at Qingdao University, told the Global Times that the edit war may be getting too much attention.

"People should take the project as a whole instead of focusing on the toxicity of a single product," he said.

"Sound proofs are needed to demonstrate  safety at every link of the manufacturing and a third-party environmental impact assessment is also a must," said Ma, adding that it may be more appropriate for medical students to prove the lack of hazard with experimental data.

PX projects in China have seen  protests in several cities from Fujian Province to Yunnan Province, often resulting in the projects being quashed or moved to remoter areas.

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