The case of Anil Potti

I looked into the case of Anil Potti because this one is unlucky enough to be the only case in 2015 in ORI’s archive. It turns out to be a really interesting case.

The investigation of the case happened in 2015, during which a cancer researcher at Duke University was found responsible for research misconduct by ORI. However, two outside biostatisticians questioned his studies as early as in 2006 – 9 years before Potti was found guilty.

In 2008, a medical student named Bradford Perez removed himself from a few papers he co-authored with Potti, and reported his concerns on Potti’s potential misconduct to Duke officials. According to The Cancer Letter, not only the report was paid little attention (or, ignored), the whistle blower was also silenced by Joseph Nevins, Potti’s mentor. Duke’s deans also allowed Nevins to investigate Potti’s case himself.

In 2010, Potti was finally put on administrative leave and a few months later he resigned from Duke. As of today, eleven of his publications were retracted and seven were corrected, according to The Retraction Watch.

I was interested in where Anil Potti is today so I looked him up. Most of the things that showed up in Google are about his very (in)famous research misconduct. His LinkedIn profile discontinued at the year of 2010, when he resigned from his position as a staff physician at Duke University. On a US News report, he is now an oncologist in North Dakoda and is affiliated with several hospitals. he has more than 21 years of practice and the patient experience with him is very positive.

Bradford Perez, the whistleblower in this case, is now a resident radiation oncologist at the Duke University School of Medicine.

 

Beware of the Watchdogs

News has been rather disturbing since the coronavirus outbreak in China: the malfunctioning and incompetent government and Red Cross, discrimination against Chinese (or Asians in general), death of the whistleblower, you name it. And yesterday came another piece: a professor at University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was fired because she posted “inappropriate messages” on social media.

The official statement to fire Peiyi Zhou by the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Let’s get the thing straight. This professor, Peiyi Zhou (周佩仪), is originally from Hong Kong. A social worker for intellectually disabled people, she moved to Beijing in 2002 and was hired by the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The social media we are talking about here is WeChat Moment/Friend Circle (微信朋友圈). Nothing like Twitter, or its Chinese equivalent, Weibo, WeChat Moment is a perfectly private space and the messages there are only shared with friends on WeChat.

And the “inappropriate message”? I’m paraphrasing here: “Problems rooted in the social system cannot be solved by attending one or two psychology classes. Every unjust death becomes hate…… I can’t stand positive vibes (正能量) anymore! Pinkies (小粉红, nationalist netizen) please unfriend me.”

Someone commented: “China cannot be perfect when it is still developing, but every Chinese loves China forever and grows with China, because this is the power of family, and this is the blood line of China that’s everlasting.” I’m at the same time disgusted and offended, but just so you understand what it means by “positive vibes” (正能量), I still made the attempt to translate it.

And this is Peiyi Zhou’s reply: “Fuck off (滚).”

Love it. Couldn’t have said it any better.

The screenshot of Peiyi Zhou’s post and comments.

This dose of absurdity might leave you speechless for a moment. First there is nothing wrong with what she said. Second if it’s wrong in any sense, it can’t be so wrong that gets someone fired. Third, it’s WeChat. Not Weibo. She’s only asking her nationalist pinkie WeChat friends to unfriend her.

But ironically, I don’t find this thing absurd at all. It fits perfectly in today’s China’s logic. The so-called whistleblower, Dr. Wenliang Li, was only trying to warn his friends and family about this coronavirus in a WeChat group. And he got called to the police, punished for “spreading rumor” (huh, rumor), and forced to sign a statement to acknowledge that he did something wrong. In that context, you will probably find this a pretty normal thing to happen: people get into trouble for what they say (in most cases, truth) in a supposedly private network.

And is this the first case a professor/instructor in Chinese higher education get reported and fired because they said something inappropriate (aka did the right thing)? Nope. Look up Shengdong You, Zhangrun Xu, Jia Lv, Yun Tang, and they are not even the only few. Professors getting reported by their students and reprimanded for whatever they said is not rare any more in today’s China, and “student information officers”, watchdogs in the classroom, are legit titles.

In comparison with this speedy punishment, it takes so long to press a charge on professors who are sexual predators. I read a comment yesterday and I’m translating it here: “it would probably be way easier to take a rapist down if you report them saying things against the CCP in bed.”

I feel so tired writing these, and I actually have no idea what I can help with this terrifying reality. If the higher education circle is not the most liberal and the most inclusive, I would expect nowhere else. And yet, more and more students are becoming Pinkies and watchdogs for the government, and more of more professors would be too afraid to speak up or teach the right thing to their students.

I saw the picture of a girl with a “freedom of speech” poster yesterday. The picture got censored and deleted several times and yet people were reposting it again and again. Many were worried about her safety and someone commented that the best way to protect her is not to let her be the only one. I guess I’m writing this down to let some people know that they are not the only one.