A Letter about Plagiarism by Professor Steve Stearns (Yale)

To my students in Beijing, Fall 2007:

While grading papers today I encountered two more cases of plagiarism.

One was sophisticated but serious. The other was so blatant that it

was almost unbelievable. That makes a total of three students who

have failed my courses because of plagiarism.

If I had not warned you and given you the opportunity honestly to

correct your essays, there would have been several more. I thank those of

you who were honest and showed me what you had copied.

Plagiarism disturbs me greatly, both because it corrodes my relationship

with you as my students, and because it tells me things about China and

Beida that neither you nor I want to hear.

It corrodes my relationship with you because I work hard to be a good

teacher, I take time to prepare good lectures, and I spend many hours

providing detailed feedback on essays. It is hard work. You cannot

imagine what it is like to correct the details of the 500th essay until

you have done it yourself. I do that to help you

learn to think more clearly, to express yourself convincingly, and to

develop your intellectual power, your ability to understand the world.

I also do it because I value you, I value your ideas, and I think the world

will be a better place when you can all think clearly and behave

intelligently. Later in life, some of you will be leaders with important

positions. I want you to be competent and honest,

for I have seen too often what terrible things can happen when

leaders are incompetent and dishonest. Leadership aside, I want all of you

to be able to create value in your lives, whatever you end up doing,

and you cannot do that if you deceive.

When a student whom I am teaching steals words and ideas from an

author without acknowledgment, I feel cheated, dragged down into the mud.

I ask myself, why should I teach people who knowingly deceive me?

Life is too short for such things. There are better things to do.

Disturbingly, plagiarism fits into a larger pattern of behavior in China.

China ignores international intellectual property rights. Beida sees

nothing wrong in copying my textbook, for example, in complete violation

of international copyright agreements, causing me to lose income,

stealing from me quite directly. No one in China seems to care.

I can buy DVDs in stores and on the street for about one US dollar.

They cost $20-30 outside China; the artists who produced them are

losing enormous amounts of stolen income, billions of dollars each year.

China has become notorious for producing defective products that have to

be recalled because the pose health threats to consumers. A recent cartoon in an

American newspaper shows the Central Committee reacting to an accusation that

they have violated human rights. The response? “Wait until they see what

we put in their toothpaste next!” Corruption is a serious problem in a booming

economy. For example, in the mining industry, about 5000 miners die each year

and mine owners cut corners in violation of the law. The social fabric breaks

when workers die because owners are greedy. The Mandate of Heaven is lost.

China appears to have lost her way. Confucius said, do not

do to others what you do not want them to do to you. He also said, a

gentleman is honest. Honesty and reciprocity are the basis of trust and

community. We cannot get along in a world filled with deceit and defection;

such a world becomes a Hobbesian war of all against all, nasty and brutal.

We cannot do science if we cannot trust what others publish. There is no

reason to try to replicate a result if it cannot be trusted. It

would not be worth the effort. Without replication there can be no shared

knowledge that is tested and trustworthy – that is, no science. Without

science, there can be no technology. And without technology, there can be

no steady increase in productivity, economic growth, and a better life for all.

The penalties for plagiarism that you will encounter later in life are very

serious. If you do it as a graduate student, you can be expelled from

university, and you will not get your degree. If you do it as a faculty

member, you can lose your job. I know you may not believe that, for

the sociology professor at Beida who translated an entire book into Chinese

and published it with his name on it only lost his administrative positions

but kept his professorship and salary. But things are not like that elsewhere.

When plagiarism is detected in the United States, it can end the

career of the person who did it. That is also true in Europe.

The fact that I have encountered this much plagiarism at Beida tells me

something about the behavior of other professors and administrators here.

They must tolerate a lot of it, and when they detect it, they cover it up

without serious punishment, probably because they do not want to lose face.

If they did punish it, it would not be this frequent.

I have greatly enjoyed teaching some of you. I have encountered young minds

here that are as good as any in the world. Many of you are brave, most

of you work very hard, most of you are honest, and some of you are brilliant.

But I am leaving with very mixed feelings. It is quite sad that so many

promising young Chinese think it is necessary to cheat to succeed. They

damage themselves even more than the people from whom they steal and the

people whom they deceive with stolen words.


Steve Stearns

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Yale University






























省事为了利润而不惜违反法律 。(译注:cut corners 指贬义的抄近道,此为意译。)



其可。(直译是君子有信,不过一时想不起原话是怎么说的了。) 诚实互惠是信任与社群




















4 thoughts on “A Letter about Plagiarism by Professor Steve Stearns (Yale)

  1. I doubt Stephen Stearns’s sincerity in fighting against violation of intellectual property right. This is because he was involved in a much greater and even more shameful violation of intellectual property.

    In a 2003 publication in Science (300: 1920) which was authored by his former student Martin Ackermann, himself, and his former colleague in Switzerland he cheated the whole world by claiming that “A fundamental question about senescence has not been settled: Which organisms should be senescent, and which should be potentially immortal?” This is an outright lie because I had already published a view that all organisms (including the so-called “immortal” bacteria) are mortal and subject to aging/senescence (see more details at http://im1.biz/Aging.htm).

    Due to the deception buried in that 2003 Science publication, western world has regarded Ackermann, Stearns and Jenal as pioneers in studying bacterial aging. But the truth is I was the true pioneer in this research area and has published most on this topic. Jenal (who later became a mentor of Ackermann) should know my study because he was at the same session of the 1997 ASM General Meeting where I presented my discovery of bacterial life and aging to the world for the first time. However, my publications, including a peer-reviewed and SCI-indexed publication in both English (Science in China 42: 64-654, 1999) and Chinese (Science in China 29: 571-579, 1999), were ignored (very likely intentionally) by Ackermann, Stearns and Jenal in their 2003 Science publication. I should also point out that the methodology used in that 2003 Science study was an exact “copy” of my method invention disclose in my 2000 patent application which was open to public in 2002 and granted a US patent in 2004 (US6767734B).

    In August this year, I wrote to Ackermann and others (including Stearns) to ask them to do some right things for the truth of scientific history and the respect for others’ intellectual property right after I saw Ackermann et al. continued their lie to the world in another publication (Aging Cell 6: 235-244, 2007). However, none of these “scientists” have answered my criticisms or done any right things so far.

    Thus, I was very surprised to see that Stearns would be so “upset” with the “plagiarism” he saw in the term papers submitted to him by the Chinese students. If he does upheld a high ethical standard, why would not he do anything moral regarding his outright lie and credit robbery?

    Shi V. Liu
    Eagle Institute of Molecular Medicine

  2. No matter what professor Stephen Stearns has done, I don’t know, and as a laity,I am not interested in it too, however, I think, for the long time interest of the scientific development in China, we Chinese should humblely and bravely admit our wrongdoings. After all, what Stephen Stearns said were truth. I appreciate professor Stephen Stearns’ braveness and sincerity. We should thank him.

  3. 没有想到这篇转贴的博文引来众多访客.今天,剽窃是个关乎中国学术存亡的大问题,大家关注当然是件好事,希望这些关注可以对改善学术环境产生积极影响.


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