2020-07-16 08:05:11

A father in southwestern China has conceded that his sixth-grade son may not be a whiz kid oncologist after all.

Dr. Chen Yongbin, a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, apologized Wednesday after his son’s award-winning science project from 2019 became the subject of controversy earlier this week.

The boy’s project on how a gene called C10orf67 might provide new clues for diagnosing and treating colorectal cancer elicited a flurry of doubts about whether a primary school student might be capable of independently conducting what some have described as Ph.D.-level research.

In the statement published by a media outlet affiliated with the academy, Chen said his son — who has always shown a “strong interest” in science — had “observed” and “conducted laboratory experiments by himself” under the supervision of his teachers and parents, and had “roughly mastered” the basic concepts and research methods related to the project.

However, in submitting the project to the 34th China Adolescents Science & Technology Innovation Contest (CASTIC), Chen said he hadn’t realized that according to the competition’s rules, students were supposed to write the final reports themselves.

“I participated too actively in the process of compiling the project’s written materials and used a lot of biomedical terms that caused confusion and misunderstanding among internet users and the media,” Chen wrote.

I participated too actively in the process of compiling the project’s written materials and used a lot of biomedical terms that caused confusion and misunderstanding.

He apologized for the “bad impact” his actions had had on society, as well as on CASTIC’s evaluating committee, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, and his family.

“My child is now under enormous psychological pressure,” Chen said. “To provide him with a healthy environment to grow up in, I as his father humbly accept all oversight and criticism, and sincerely ask for forgiveness and understanding.”

On Wednesday, CASTIC officials in Yunnan canceled the first-prize award for the boy’s project in the provincial-level competition, revoking its medal and certificate. The national CASTIC committee, meanwhile, said it would investigate controversial award-winning projects and improve the contest rules and judging process.

Chen’s son’s colorectal cancer investigation isn’t the only dubious project from recent science contests. A high schooler from the southwestern municipality of Chongqing won first prize in the 34th CASTIC for her research on medullary thyroid cancer, a rare cancer of the large endocrine gland. And in the 33rd contest, a study co-produced by a third- and a fifth-grader on cancer-fighting antioxidants found in tea was also criticized by experts, who argued that similar experiments in mice typically take years to complete.

One reason parents like Chen misrepresent their children’s work in science competitions is because national prizes are widely seen as golden tickets to a better education and a better life.

A researcher surnamed Huang from another Chinese Academy of Sciences-affiliated institute told the state-run Xinhua News Agency that a friend had asked for his assistance in designing a CASTIC project for his child — but after he thought he had come up with an age-appropriate project, the faculty mentor criticized it as “too low-level.”

“When they showed me the award winners, I was shocked,” he said. “I thought, these look like they were done by master’s or doctoral students.”

Dingxiangyuan, one of China’s most popular online platforms for health professionals, published an article Sunday that alluded to whether parental assistance might be artificially inflating the country’s expectations of the future generation: “There are so many projects like this that make people feel like the spring of Chinese scientific research is coming — but is it true?”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Gong Hangxu/E+/People Visual)