Academic and skeptic launch into online war of words

Updated: 2011-11-25 08:06

By An Baijie (China Daily)

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 Academic and skeptic launch into online war of words

Former head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee (left), has got involved in a verbal battle with Fang Zhouzi, an academic known for his opposition to "pseudoscience". File photo

BEIJING - Former head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has got involved in a verbal battle with a scholar renowned for exposing frauds in the academia since Tuesday. Fang Zhouzi, an academic known for his opposition to "pseudoscience", accused Lee of bragging about his job title during his teaching stint at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the United States.

Lee, former Google China president and current CEO of Innovation Works, said in his Chinese-language biography, published in September 2009, that he used to be the youngest associate professor in CMU at the age of 26.

"If I stuck to that for several years, I could get a tenure (lifelong post)," Lee wrote in the biography.

These words were challenged by Fang, who wrote in his micro blog on Weibo.com on Tuesday that Lee was, in fact, an assistant professor at CMU, rather than an associate professor.

"The so-called associate professor was merely an assistant professor," Fang said in the micro blog. "There are a large number of assistant professors in their 20s in key universities of the US. Even if Lee's claims were true, was that reason enough to brag?"

Unlike the academics in China - who are placed under the categories of associate professor and professor - US universities place them under three heads - assistant professor, associate professor and full professor, according to Fang.

Lee responded to Fang's charges afterwards on his micro blog on Tuesday, saying that the nuances were lost in translation, leading to a controversy.

"My post in CMU was that of an assistant professor, which could have led to a tenure and the post of a research leader. But 'assistant professor' in Chinese might be understood as 'teaching assistant', thus losing the connotation that it might lead to a tenure," Lee wrote.

"I decided to go with 'associate professor', while noting that an 'assistant professor' in the US could be on his way to getting a tenure, without necessarily having achieved one yet," according to Lee's micro blog.

Fang refuted Lee's self-defense on Wednesday, saying that since Lee used to work in a US university, he must have known the fact that an assistant professor was quite different from an associate professor.

Lee fought back on Wednesday, saying it was the CMU president who told him that he was the youngest assistant professor at the age of 26, and the translation of his job title has been explained in the biography.

Finally, Lee said he would never again respond to any discussion about his academic title.

However, the controversy continued as Fang uploaded pages of eight editions of Lee's biography on Thursday, saying that the note of clarification appeared only in the eighth revised edition.

Between the publication of the seventh edition (March 2010) and the eighth (January 2011), Fang exposed a certain Tang Jun's claims of possessing a doctoral degree from California Institute of Technology. Fang said this exposure alerted Lee, who then added the note of clarification in the eighth edition.

China Daily could not reach Lee and Fang for comment at the time of going to press.

The dispute set off a trail of public discussion on the micro blog, and netizens have expressed their support or opposition toward the two public figures.

Jiang Nanchun, CEO of Focus Media, posted a note, saying this was just a translation issue, and that Lee's academic claims were believable.

China Daily

(China Daily 11/25/2011 page4)