The False Science Debate on Phoenix TV - Part 2

(yWeekend)  The Interview with Phoenix TV host Hu Yifu.  By Ma Jun.  January 4, 2007.

[in translation]

The two camps are natural deadly enemies and could not be more starkly contrasted: On one side, there are the warriors who expose false science.  On the other side, there are the civilian scientists who are calling for the elimination of the term "false science."  The two sides have battled each other on the Internet.  Recently, they have moved out of the usual battlegrounds of KDnet, Strong Nation forum and New Threads to open up a new battlefield on Hu Yifu's program on Phoenix TV.

Hu Yifu's program began in early 2006.  Each week, they select certain important social and cultural events, themes or hot topics and they invite the principal characters as well as scholars, experts and celebrities to appear as guests who offer their opinions and interpretations.  The program host Hu Yifu begins the program by saying:  "This is not a one-voiced hall.  Rather, this is an open forum in which all opinions will be respected."

In early December, the retired researcher Song Zhenghai of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' History of Natural Sciences Institute initiated a signature drive to eliminate the term "false science" from the vocabulary of popular science.  150 scholars signed the petition.  Thus began the academic debate.  On December 16, Hu Yifu's Phoenix TV program invited Song Zhenghai and his opponent Fang Zhouzi and others to begin the first debate over false science.  Twelve days later, Phoenix TV invited eight relevant guests to film two segments of Hu Yifu's program.

In the first segment, the debate got so fierce that a fight almost broke out.  In the second segment, the four guests who supported He Zuoxiu against false science were social scientist Sima Nan, Qinghua University professor Zhao Nanyuan, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences History of Medicine doctor Yuan Zhong and Chinese Academy of Sciences Microbiology Institute researcher Cheng Guangsheng.  The four guests who opposed their views were Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher Fan Liangzao, Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences researcher Fu Jinghua, scholar Ding Xiaoping and I-Ching researcher Dong Yi-lin.

As the program progressed, the atmosphere got ever more tense.  The guests on both sides held onto their views about what is "science" and what is "false science."  When one guest spoke, his side cheered loudly while the outside booed and whistled.  There were even instances in which the audience members launched curses at each other.  The program host Hu Yifu had to ask people to "show some class."

During the taping, the status of the opposition's guest Ding Xiaoping as "Peking University special professor" was subjected to serious doubt.

After the taping session, several audience members had another emotional outburst including some physical contact such as pushing and shoving outside the recording studio.  The security guards had to step in and the crowd was finally persuaded to disperse.

Our newspaper had an exclusive interview with Phoenix TV program host Hu Yifu.  Concerning the fighting incident, Hu Yifu was deeply pained and kept saying that "this was so unbelievable."

Q: While you were hosting, did the two sides almost start fighting down the stage?
A: There were Peking University students and Tsinghua University students in the audience, and they almost started a fight.  I was very disappointed.  Their comments were as good as those of the university professors in terms of quality and substance.  They were very involved.  But when we reached the third section in which Sima Nan faced off against Ding Xiaoping, the audience was about to start fighting.  I found it truly unbelievable.
I feel that the important thing in a debate is not so much how good your verbal skills are, but your demeanor and style.  When I saw people ready to fight that day, I said, "Please.  How come I feel that time has just been rolled back?  On a topic like this, you want to jump down and fight with your opponents?"

Q: As a program host, what was your reaction when you saw what was happening down stage?
A: I was angry.  I have never lost my temper during a program before, but that was the first time.  Previously, I used humor to smooth things over.  On that day, I was very angry.  I said: "Director!  Please amplify my voice!  You had all better sit down for me!"  I used to be a soldier and I was so fierce that they were all scared.
I said, "If you respect yourself, you should sit down and discuss.  If you want to fight, then please go outside and do so.  That is your personal matter."
I kept asking the two sides to behave because the show will be watched by a global Chinese audience.  That audience will be interested in your knowledge and your manners.  We are a vast magnificent nation, with the emphasis being on "magnificent."  They respect you not only for your knowledge, but also for your attitude.
The rudeness that the students displayed towards their elders was unbelievable to me.  I can frankly say that I saw the past in Taiwan as I observed that scene.  When Taiwan began to transit from a monolithic society towards a diverse society, the same thing happened.  You haven't even finished speaking when the other side slapped you a few times and tossed you off the stage.  You only want to have your say first, and you don't listen to what the other side says.
No matter what, this is still a transitional phase.  Today even Yu Dan can be popular for discussing <The Analects>.  And <The Analects> emphasizes civility and respect.  The part about the fighting really disappointed me.  Smart people do not fight with their fists; they fight with their mouths.  The smartest people will fight with their looks.

Q: Why did the debate get so fierce?
A: I saw an old man taking his medicine.  I asked him, "Is it necessary to get so excited?"
His reaction impressed me deeply.  He said, "Tiger (note: Hu Yifu), do you know that this is about the scientific research over my lifetime.  The reputation of science is more important than anyone's chastity."
You can watch the last episode  which will be shown on the evening of January 6, 2007.  In that episode, the last guests to appear were Fan Liangzao and Cheng Guangsheng.  They are both 80 years old.  Fan Liangzao came in a wheelchair.  His opening words were: "Tiger, we have waited until your program finally arrived.  There are many scientists in China, but they are voiceless.  Our voices do not compare to those of the stars."
In that final paired debate, the entire audience fell silent during their seven-minute statements.  You can make a comparison.  That is the gentlemen's debate that I want to have.
Fan Liangzao also said: "I will not live for too long from now.  What can we hope to achieve from this debate?  I think that everybody knows that when we look at a scientific matter, we must understand and study it before we can criticize it."  This statement truly went deep into my heart.
I saw that the whole audience quieted down.  Then his old opponent said, "It is no use for you to leverage your age.  I am about as old as you are.  In today's China, it is no longer possible to use your age to rule in the field of science.  We have to base everything on the facts."
These two people used completely different viewpoints in  terms of their thinking to give us many ideas.  There were no baseless squabbles, but their words can make the whole audience quiet down.  At that time, I thought that this was a change.

Q: What kind of change?
A: We were not only listening to what he was saying, but we must also see how they say it.  I have to emphasize this.  In this transitional era in which the linking values are missing as we go from a monolithic society to a diversified society, the attitude is more important than the content.  The attitude with which you let the other side understand you is more important than the knowledge that you have.
Therefore, I asked the director: when I say these words at the end, they must be broadcast in full.  Because the true purpose of my program is in that last segment that is about to be aired.
That last segment was the one in which the experts dueled.  Everybody was quiet.  When recording that program, I experienced many feelings.  I learned the true purpose of my program.

Q: The debate was very fierce.  I heard that you people made a lot of preparations.  According to reports, there were even ambulances at the set.
A: The last time, someone was taking medicine on camera.  I thought that this was important.  Older people may have high blood pressure and they can go into shock if they get too excited.  It could be dangerous.
I asked the principals if they want to come.  The principals said that was a rare opportunity.  Therefore, we got some doctors and nurses in the nearby area to attend.  This is no joke. Before coming, they had to sign papers.  We told them that if they come to the program and their bodies don't feel good, they should not have to worry because we have arranged for doctors and nurses.  But we did not reserve hospital beds (laughs).

Q: You just mentioned that you want this to be a gentlemen's debate.  But from the two episodes already aired, this stage has not been reached yet?
A: Right, what I said was about my findings after the entire program was recorded.  I found that this was an evolutionary process.  If you watch the final episode on Saturday, you can see that these two people were the heavyweights who closed the show.

Q: Did you especially arrange it that way?
A: No.  But it was arranged that way because we considered whether their bodies could endure.  Mr. Fan Liangzao came in a wheelchair.  After the recording was finished, many of the audience members want to do another one segment.  Right?

Q: Your program is shown once a week.  But on the subject of false science, you have shown three episodes in twenty days.  Was it at the request of the live audience?
A: My program has shown almost 50 different topics and many of those debates were vociferous.  But none of them had the powerful responses like the topic of false science.
It has also drawn a powerful response overseas.  Usually, the truth becomes clearer through debate.  But many overseas audience members said that they could not figure out what many of the things were about, so how can they get into such heated arguments?  So they asked to see more in order to figure out what people are arguing about.
In our first episode about false science on December 16, many of the guests had still not appeared.  So we decided to hold a year-end PK to invite all eight relevant persons to appear.
In the first program, I observed situations in which things got out of control.  Their language was too rash.  I hope that they can forget about the rash talk on the Internet and turn this into a gentlemen's debate.  We wanted to give a thorough airing on the topic.
So we recorded for four hours.

Q: Two episodes of the program have been aired.  What is the response in Hong Kong and Taiwan?
A: A Taiwan variety show director asked me, "Did they rehearse what they said?  How can there be someone getting up to take medicine?  Was that real or faked?"  I said that all of it was real, unlike the Taiwan variety shows.
A professor at the Hong Kong City University told me, "Hey, our students are talking about your program.  Hong Kong students are saying: 'How come the mainland students have all these viewpoints.  One two three four.  Hong Kong university students cannot talk like that.'"
Taiwan students gave me this feedback: "You must have told them to say those things.  How dare they speak out like that?"
These are the evaluations of mainland university students by the Hong Kong and Taiwan university students.  There were criticisms and praises, with more criticisms than praises.  I wanted to see more then just talking about how they dare to articulate their viewpoints, but about their courage to listen to the viewpoints of the other side and treat them in a tolerant way.

Q: Mr. Sima Nan said that when you heard Mr. Jiang Chunxuan's complaint, you shifted emotionally and your subsequent remarks showed some bias.  Do you admit to that?
A: No.  If you watch the entire proceedings, you will see that I always use double commands.  Thus, I slap one side 50 times and then I slap the other side 50 times.
As for Jiang Chunxuan, his biggest problem was that he was absent the first time and only Sima Nan had been talking.  Therefore, Jiang Chunxuan needed to be able to state his case clearly.  In the fight against false science, he is a key person.

Q: But that is to say, you do not believe that you have any bias as a host throughout the program.
A: In this debate, I have no preferences.  Besides, I don't feel the need.  Thirdly, my style as a program host is through my instinct and I am unaffected by other factors.

Q: But when you heard Jiang Chunxuan's speech, you began to question Sima Nan and them?
A: Wrong!  I posed two questions to both sides.  Neither side replied.  Frankly speaking, both sides missed the most critical point in there.
At the time, Jiang Chunxuan related his case.  So I asked the other side: "You all say that it is false science.  Is any one of you a mathematician?"  None.  "Have you read his book?"  No.  "Then how can you say that Jiang Chunxuan is a false scientist?"  At the time, nobody could provide a persuasive answer.
In reverse, Jiang Chunxuan's friend said that the book was well-received internationally and ahead of its time.  So I asked them, "How do you know that this book is ahead of its time?  In which international scholastic journal was it published?  Please tell me."  Nobody could answer that.
Do you know what I mean?  That was how I caned each side 50 times.
You can see that I am always offending people on this program.  Both sides are guessing, "Whose side are you on?"  I say, "Let me tell you.  I am a two-faced person on stage.  I slap my right side 50 times and I slap my left side 50 times.  When I see one side being slapped too hard, I would comfort him and give him the courage to speak further.

Q: Earlier, you said that you hoped to give a thorough airing of the topic of false science.
A: I did not say that.

Q: Is there any pressure to host a program with the sides so violently opposed to each other.
A: The pressure was very big at first.  The pressure was so big that I could not even speak.  During the first episode, I was astonished that everybody knew how to speak and everyone was a program host.  But in the last episode of 2006, my thinking has changed.  I hope that everyone can calm down and listen.
I feel that many people are too brash nowadays.  Everybody is huffing and puffing, they want to speak and they don't want to listen carefully.  You can see that many of the arguments stem from not listening to the other side and therefore getting stuck in one's original thinking.
When I was hosting a program in Beijing, an official told me: "Yifu, you are a troublemaker.  I and my wife watched your program.  I am with party A and she is with party B.  At the end, we did not get a standard answer.  We are very curious about your stand."
I said, "You should not listen to my position.  I'm just a program host.  Besides, we do not have any standard answers, because we have had too many standard answers in the past."
An audience member should be an intelligent audience member.  The past ten plus years are encapsulated in the attitudes and vocabularies of the speakers -- they are proud, they are confident, they are domineering but they lack tolerance.

Q: The appearance of certain guests are highly controversial.  Why do you invite those people?
A: We select the guests on the basis of news values and news personalities.  Therefore we have to use some of these people.  But there are also some people who are using this opportunity in order to become famous through our platform.  The audience can make its own determination.
Also, there is the case of Jiang Chunxuan of whom the guests spoke about a lot.  But he was not here the first time, and people do not know what his story is.  Therefore, he was invited on the second occasion.

Q: Sima Nan said that Ding Xiaoping was invited without their knowledge.  I want to ask whether you deliberately planned this surprise attack?
A: I am not sure about that.  But I saw Ding Xiaoping's name in the first list of guests provided by the production unit.  As to whether the production unit informed Sima Na or not, I do not know.
My speculation is that our production unit sometimes do not inform the guests about the list of other people.  Maybe they are worried about a certain type of situation: when you tell them about all the guests, someone may not want to come.  Perhaps someone thinks that the other party is a better speaker than he is.  If he wants to win, he would rather have someone that he prefers.  Obviously, we do not agree with that.
We can accept that when you arrive at the studio and you despise the other person, you can choose to leave right there and then.  But you cannot choose your opponent.
The debate over false science will continue.  My program was able to bring this kind of program to the audience and this shows the reason why this program has received attention during the past year.  "The truth becomes clear through debate."