Hell Hath No Fury Like a Spurned Amateur Scientist

2017-07-27 14:28:21

A Chinese science website has responded to three amateur scientists who claimed that the site damaged their reputations.

On Wednesday evening, Guokr.com said in a statement posted to their official Weibo microblog account that they did not believe their post had insulted or damaged the reputations of the minke — literally “folk scientists” in Chinese — who have expressed their grievances.

The group, most of whom have no academic background, occasionally draw attention to themselves by casting aspersions on established scientific theories and touting their own as superior.

The original Guokr post, published in May, condemned Fan Wei, an amateur scientist, for falsely claiming that Brian D. Josephson, a British theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate, had endorsed one of his physics papers. Included in the post were the names of another 52 amateur scientists deemed to have questionable credibility.

“I would rather argue with rascals than talk to these folk scientists,” Zhang Wenzhuo, a physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China in eastern Anhui province, wrote in the post, in which he also likened minke to prostitutes: “There is a joke online that says one sign of an aging man is that he no longer tries to persuade prostitutes to abandon an indecent profession.” Likewise, one sign of an aging physicist is that he no longer tries to persuade amateur scientists to give up their ideas, he quipped.

The post and Zhang’s comments apparently angered not only Fan, a 24-year-old from Kunming who works in advertising, but also three other amateur scientists.

In mid-June, two of the amateur scientists named in the Guokr post, Li Zifeng and Huang Xinwei, together with one amateur scientist who was not named, filed a defamation lawsuit against the website and Zhang.

On July 5, Beijing’s Dongcheng District People’s Court agreed to hear the case, according to one of the plaintiffs, Li, who is a professor of petroleum engineering at Yanshan University in northern Hebei province.

“I do not know Fan very well,” Li told Sixth Tone. “But Guokr’s post has damaged our reputations and insulted us.” Li added that the post referred to him as a folk scientist in a derogatory manner because he claimed Einstein’s theory of relativity was wrong, and asserted that his research at Yanshan University focused on petroleum engineering rather than physics.

For his part, Fan agreed with the decision to sue. “If I had the money, I would have filed the suit myself a long time ago,” he said, adding that he earns just 2,000 yuan ($300) a month.

Zhang, a defendant, seemed unperturbed by the lawsuit. “Why should I retract my comments?” he responded when asked by Sixth Tone whether he would backtrack on the matter. Zhang also said that Guokr would back him in any related litigation.

In an email reply to Sixth Tone, Guokr said that they would not comment further on the suit filed by the amateur scientists. “However, we will respond proactively to any developments,” they added.

Editor: Nuala Gathercole Lam.

(Header image: Zhan Chaoyang/IC)