Four men arrested after hammer attack on China's top 'science cop'


BEIJING POLICE have arrested four men, including a top professor, after a brutal hammer attack on China’s top “science cop”, a whistle-blower famed for exposing religious fakes, academic charlatans and bogus researchers.

Fang Zhouzi was attacked late last month, sprayed with pepper spray and beaten on his back with a hammer. There were immediate suspicions it had something to with his “New Thread” website, which has built up a powerful reputation for highlighting academic frauds, including techniques pioneered by one of his alleged assailants.

“I will not stop battling pseudoscience,” Mr Fang told local media after the attack, although he said he would be more cautious in future.

During his career he has unmasked Peking University professors using unfair means to grant students entry, and found evidence that a top geneticist had faked their diploma.

Mr Fang’s most recent case was the unmasking of a celebrity Taoist priest, Li Yi, abbot of Shaolong Temple at Jinyun Mountain in Chongqing, who claimed to have magical powers.

He also caused a furore when he accused Tang Jun, former chief executive of Microsoft Greater China Region, of fabricating his academic credentials in the United States.

His particular bugbear is fakery in the Chinese traditional medicine sphere, but he also goes after those claiming to be environmentalists to boost their status, without coming up with the goods.

He says China is prone to such charlatans because in the absence of a decent public health system, people are obsessed with their health and there is a general ignorance about science and group psychology, leaving the weakest members of society prone to abuse.

His is a powerful position, as in the absence of a truly independent media, exposing such trickery is difficult.

The government is also concerned about the damage to China’s reputation, particularly when some of the country’s top academics are exposed as plagiarists. Beijing is keen to foster China’s efforts to become an innovative society, and snake oil salesmen are a big impediment to this.

The attackers used pepper spray to blind Mr Fang, then hit him with a hammer on a street near his home as he came home from a TV interview on August 29th. He suffered mild injuries in the attack.

Using surveillance video and witnesses, police were able to identify three men in early September. The investigation was part of another probe into an attack on an investigative journalist, Fang Xuanchang (no relation), an editor of the financial journal Caijing, in June.

The two men had worked together several years ago on a story exposing a cancer medicine as fraudulent.

The three alleged assailants said they had been hired by Xiao Chuanguo, head of the Urology Department at Wuhan Union Hospital, and he was arrested at Shanghai’s Pudong airport on Tuesday.

Police said that Prof Xiao had confessed that the attacks were revenge, as he believed exposure by the two writers had caused him to lose out on an appointment as a member of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He said he hired Dai Jianxiang, who arranged for two accomplices to help him carry out the attacks.

Police also said in the course of their investigation they had uncovered iron hammers and steel pipes, tools that were used in separate previous attacks on the two men.