A Summary of Scientific Ethics’ Open Investigation on
the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case
December 10, 2015
On November 11, 2015 Scientific Ethics launched an open investigation on Sheng-Jia Zhang Case involving publicly disclosed dispute between him and Chan Xie as well as Bai Lu. Open questionnaires were sent to all major players in the dispute as well as minor participants in the event. Responses and evidences were received from Zhang and his students. Xie, Lu, and others did not response to Scientific Ethics. Based on the responses and some direct evidences presented by Scientific Ethics as well as other publications from various sources and in various forms a “virtual academic court” issued a preliminary judgement to all parties named in the Scientific Ethics’ open investigation and requested a response within 10days. Now that deadline has passed and no contempt has been received against that preliminary judgement. Thus, we at Scientific Ethics feel comfortable and confident to release initial conclusions of our investigation.2015年11月11日，针对已公开的张生家与谢灿及张生家与鲁白间的争议，《科学伦理》开始了“张生家案”的公开调查。公开问卷送给争论中所有主角和参与事件的配角。张生家和他的学生递交了答案和证据。谢、鲁、以及其他人未答复《科学伦理》。基于这些答复和《科学伦理》列举的一些直接证据以及从多种渠道得到的各种形式的出版物，一个虚拟学术法庭向《科学伦理》公开调查涉及各方发出了初步判决并要求10日之内给予反应。现在限期已过且没有收到抗辨。因此，我们《科学伦理》的同仁可以轻松而自信地公布我们调查的初步结论。
1. Zhang’s research paper published in Sci. Bull (DOI 10.1007/s11434-015-0902-0) has correctly attributed authorship to individuals who made substantial intellectual contribution to the reported research and also adequately acknowledged individuals for their respective non-intellectual support such as providing research materials by Xie and laboratory space by Lu. The authorship practice employed by Zhang adhered with internationally-accepted standard such as those stipulated by COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics） and by ICMJE（International Committee of Medical Journal Editors).
2. Zhang submitted his paper to Sci. Bull. on September 9, 2015 after Xie submitted his paper to Nature Materials on August 4th, 2015 after rejection by Nature on June 1st, 2015. The earlier acceptance (September 11, 2015) and publication (online on September 14, 2015) of Zhang’s paper than Xie’s paper (accepted on October 21, 2015 and published online on November 16, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/NMAT4484) reflected different speeds between two journals in processing manuscripts. It should not be characterized as Zhang’s rush into publication and thus grabbing credit from Xie.
2. 张是在谢的文章被《自然》于2015年6月1日拒稿、2015年8月4日转投《自然-材料》的一个多月之后的2015年9月9日才投稿《科学通报》。张文的接受（2015年9月11日）和在线发表（2015年9月14日）比谢文的张文的接受（2015年10月21日）和在线发表（2015年11月16日; DOI: 10.1038/NMAT4484）早，但这是两个杂志处理稿件速度不同的反映，不应被看作是张抢先发表并夺取谢的荣誉。
3. Zhang’s paper in Sci. Bull (DOI 10.1007/s11434-015-0902-0) describing magnetogenetic research is quite different from Xie’s paper in Nature Materials (DOI: 10.1038/NMAT4484) reporting discovery of magnetic protein complex claimed to be a “biocompass” for magnetic sensing. Publication of Zhang’s paper earlier would not jeopardize Xie’s publication later as it was shown indeed in this case.
3. 张的《科学通报》论文(DOI 10.1007/s11434-015-0902-0)描述磁遗传研究，与谢的报告一个被称为有磁感应的生物指南针的磁蛋白复合体的研究大不相同。张文的早先发表不会对谢文的后来发表有害，事实也证明如此。
4. Zhang and Xie made an informal and unofficial agreement which contains a deal of having Xie as a co-author in Zhang’s paper. Zhang also agreed to let Xie publish his paper first. But this kind of personal agreement does not conform to common ethical standards and directly violates internationally-accepted criteria for authorship. On the other hand, Zhang’s exclusion of Xie from authorship, from whatever reasons disputable, retuned authorship assignment on his paper back to norm. In contrast, Xie’s lack of citing Zhang’s earlier publication is unethical because he should at least add a note-in-proof to mention Zhang’s earlier publication that he not only knew but also complained about. Xie’s inclusion of a paragraph on magnetogenetics in his Nature Materials paper revised from his manuscript rejected by Nature should be regarded as a credit robbery because he learnt that from Zhang but did not even acknowledge Zhang’s intellectual contribution.
The above conclusions are based on hard-core evidence and non-disputable facts and conform with world-wide-accepted scientific ethical standards. The dispute on the actual partners of Xie’s collaboration as well as Lu’s accusation on Zhang as disclosed in a series of Nature news (published on September 21, November 5, and November 16, respectively) remained to be investigated. However, such further investigation needs cooperation from respected authorities in Peking University and Tsinghua University. Without opening two “black boxes” (seen in attached diagram) the whole truth of the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case will not be known. Thus, we appeal public as well as international organizations to pay attention to the questions remained to be answered for Sheng-Jia Zhang Case. We also wish respective Chinese authorities to launch their investigations into the handling of the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case by Peking University and Tsinghua University. These extended investigations are necessary for exposing potentially more serious problems other than academic misconduct. Exposure and solution to those problems may greatly improve “ecology” of Chinese scientific research and truly boost innovation in Chinese scientific research.
This summary will be sent to all parties involved in the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case and authorities directly handling and/or indirectly overseeing the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case. Scientific magazines/journals as well as newspapers/social media covering or interested in the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case will also be informed with this summary of our independent and open investigation.
We believe an old saying in Chinese: paper cannot contain fire. We also believe sparkling fire can spread all over land. A fireball has been ignited with the Sheng-Jia Zhang Case and already spread into Nature. Let us see if natural rules will be followed so that this fireball will not only burn through any paper wrapped around it but also flame over whole scientific land to destroy any unethical weeds.
Shi V. Liu, Editor-in-Chief, Scientific Ethics
A diagram showing timeline of events and relationship of players, with two black boxes identified for further investigations.