Friday, November 01, 2013

Huang vs. Tseng

Some thirty years ago when I decided to quit my job at the trading company and become a teacher, my parents and in-laws were very glad about my decision because the school, or the academic circle, was considered far less complicated than the business field. They probably would have thought twice before jumping into that conclusion if they had seen what I have been witnessing these years. A recent rift between two prominent scholars in psychology could well be regarded as a typical example representing a side of the academia beyond the comprehension of most outsiders.

Few weeks ago, Dr. Huang Kwang-kuo, a well-known psychology professor of National Taiwan University, wrote a letter-to-the-editor openly challenging Dr. Ovid Tseng, former deputy director of Academia Sinica and former education minister, also an internationally-famed cognitive neuroscientist, about one of his early-published papers.

This 1979 essay of Tseng, published by Nature, a prominent interdisciplinary scientific journal, was about a behavioral experiment of which side of human brain used in reading Chinese characters. Huang said that in 1994 one of Tseng’s graduate students had tried repeatedly a dozen times using Tseng’s method but could not obtain the same result. Huang therefore questioned Tseng’s conclusion and demanded an explanation.

Tseng said although preliminary results were not stable; however, after having applied more advanced image-building technique, the results were verified true. Tseng then ceased to make any responses to Huang’s challenge. Frustrated but still determined, also doubting whether Tseng had done was myth or truth, Huang wrote another two open letters questioning why Tseng would not dare to do the experiment again to prove to the public that he was right.

Some local press commented that the fuse of clash between Huang and Tseng was ignited several years ago when Tseng was suspected for blocking Huang from being elected a member of Academia Sinica.

Failing to get any words from Tseng, Huang called him a scholar-lord, who knows only to get hold of ample academic resources and to foster his own followers. Huang asserted that our academic sphere would never progress with the existence of such fellow like Tseng.

I believe that academic research will be more advanced if scholars are more willing to accept open challenges. For Dr. Tseng, in my opinion, the best way to silence Dr. Huang is do the experiment in his presence again.

I have never believed that the scholastic circle is above fame, fortune, politics or any vulgarities so despised by the scholars. Here is another example. Dr. Chen Ning Yang and Dr. Tsung Dao Lee were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957, yet they had refused to speak to each other for over half a century just because they had an argument over who would be the first author of a paper they wrote together.

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