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Nature apologizes to Ye Shiwen

By Tan Yingzi  (

09:48, August 09, 2012

Under huge criticism from its readers, scientific journal Nature published an apology on Monday to Chinese Olympic swimming sensation Ye Shiwen, after a controversial article claiming that Ye used performance-enhancing substances.

In an Editor's Note, the magazine admitted a "combination of errors" and "the absence of a more detailed discussion of the statistics" in the story written by Ewen Callaway. The magazine said that it had no intention of supporting the accusations against Ye.

"For that we apologize to our readers and to Ye Shiwen," the magazine said.

The note was co-authored by Tim Appenzeller, Chief Magazine Editor of Nature, and Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief.

Ye, the 16-year-old swimming sensation, broke a world record to win the women's 400m individual medley gold and then claimed a 200m individual medley title at the London Olympics, which sparked heated discussion, as well as strong suspicion, among Western media organizations due to her remarkable performance.

John Leonard, the executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association and the World Swimming Coaches Association, called Ye's swimming style "disturbing" and told the Guardian newspaper it brought back "a lot of awful memories" of doping scandals at previous Olympics, according to CNN.

Though she passed a test done by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Aug 1, one day after the 200m competition, Nature, an UK-based magazine, published a story on its website titled Why great Olympic feats raise suspicions.

The author, Ewen Callaway, said that Ye's performance was "anomalous" and implied that her clean drug test during the competition couldn't rule out the possibility of doping.

Callaway wrote: "her time in the 400 IM was more than 7 seconds faster than her time in the same event at a major meet in July 2012", a date which should be July 2011 and was later corrected by the magazine.

Then he said that "what really raised eyebrows was her showing in the last 50 meters, which she swan faster than US swimmer Ryan Lochte did when he won gold in the men's 400 IM".

He also quoted Ross Tucker, an exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, as saying that "everyone will pass at the Olympic Games. Hardly anyone fails in competition testing".

Due to the factual error and biased attitude, the online article immediately drew "an extraordinary level of outraged response" from its readers, mostly scientists, the Editor's Note said.

Many readers criticized the fact that the author "cherry-picked" the data in the comparison between Ye's and Lochte's last 50 meters despite of the strategic differences.

Lai Jiang, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out in the comments section that Lochte is 23:35 seconds faster than Ye overall and that there are four male swimmers who swam faster than both Lochte and Ye in the final 50 meters.

On Aug 4, Rao Yi, PhD and Professor of Neurobiology, at the Peking University School of Life Sciences, wrote an open letter to Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, saying that he hoped that Campbell could "set the record straight and publish opinions that balance the Callaway report".

Cheng Li, a Chinese studies expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said that there is a mixed attitude of "racism and jealousy" in the Western media's response to Ye's case as many Americans and Europeans feel threatened by China.

"But the US media coverage is unbalanced on this issue, ignoring the fact that there are still many Americans who dislike or criticize the accusations against the Chinese girl," he said.

"Those accusations are actually against American's principles, such as the benefit of the doubt. The apology from Nature is a very good thing," he added.


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