Science and tech ministry mulling disclosing ethics violations in academia

TAIPEI (CNA) – Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said on Thursday that it was considering adopting measures to require the disclosure of serious offenses committed by people in the academic sector as part of government efforts to wipe out wrongdoings in academia.

Speaking at a ministry meeting, Minster of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) said the ministry was mulling new measures to mandate the disclosure of all wrongdoings by academics unless they are minor infractions.

Chen made the statement after Chen Kuen-feng (陳昆鋒), 49, an attending physician at the Department of Medical Research of National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital, was found by the ministry to have repeatedly used others’ research findings, photos and depictions in 10 of his theses.

Chen said his ministry had actually probed Chen Kuen-feng’s case last year, and parts of its investigation were already made public afterwards. But due to the objections of the screening committee, Chen Kuen-feng’s name was not revealed at that time, he explained.

Although relevant regulations were modified last year, further adjustments will be made to mandate that the ministry disclose serious offenses, the minister said, adding that ethics education also needs to take root to strengthen moral discipline in the academic sector.

As a result, the ministry ordered Chen Kuen-feng to suspend his practice for 10 years, and banned him from applying for subsidies for his projects from the ministry during this period. It also required him to pay back N$680,000 (US$22,080) already granted to him for previous research projects.

According to Chan Wen-hsu (詹文旭), head of the MOST’s integrity office, the ministry screened Chen Kuen-feng’s case several times after receiving a tipoff in 2017, but decided not to make public its findings following the reviews.

Asked why, Chan was reluctant to explain, and would only say: “It was not convenient because there was no specific stipulations requiring us to do so.” According to MOST data, Chen Kuen-feng was granted a total of NT$42.24 million in subsidies for 10 projects led by him during the 2008-2018 period.

It appears that Chen Kuen-feng’s case was not an isolated incident.

The ministry said it has identified more than 180 cases carried out between 2006 and 2011 in which scholars and researchers went against academic ethics, with 60 percent of the cases involving plagiarism.

In response to criticism regarding his conduct, Chen Kuen-feng, a specialist in the treatment of liver cancer, called it a “gap in understanding between different parts.” NTU Hospital has expressed disappointment about Chen Kuen-feng’s wrongdoings, demanding that he return all subsidies and stripping his rights to start new research projects in the next five years.

Meanwhile, Chang Wu-hsiu (張武修), a member of Taiwan’s Control Yuan, a watchdog for government agencies, officials and others, told the media on Thursday that he planned to investigate Chen Kuen-feng’s case.

By Claudia Liu and Flor Wang