Baidu CEO Robin Li Yanhong’s recent nomination for the country’s highest academic title in engineering has triggered heated debate, with some netizens claiming Li was unqualified because of his search engine’s insufficient regulation of fraudulent medical advertising.
Li was one of 531 candidates, including 114 entrepreneurs, who might become academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering at the end of the year, according to a statement released by the academy on April 30.
Other nominees include e-commerce giant Alibaba’s technology chief Wang Jian, carmaker BYD founder Wang Chuanfu, and Microsoft computer engineer Harry Shum. The candidates will be subject to a strict selection process, and only around 10 to 15 percent of them will be granted the prestigious title.
Expert will make their choices, but some netizens in an anonymous WeChat poll opposed Li’s nomination. More than 150,000 netizen in the poll voted no, with around 1,000 voting for his nomination as of May 2. The poll was removed on Monday. Neither the academy nor Baidu responded to inquiries.
Li was nominated by the China Association for Science and Technology mainly for his contribution to China’s search engine technology, financial news outlet Yicai reported on Monday. Li also was included in the candidate category known for its inclusion of innovative managers in new and interdisciplinary engineering sectors.
Zhou Jian, chairman of Beijing Gan’en Charity Foundation, said in a recent WeChat article that people should “resolutely oppose Li’s nomination for academician”, claiming Baidu has promoted fake medical advertisements in its search results that misled patients.
A purported doctor who goes by the alias Dahanchengxiang recently wrote a WeChat article saying he often encountered patients who fell for the fake advertisements, wasted money and treatment time and thus missed the opportunity to be cured.
The netizen also strongly opposed Li’s nomination shortly after the announcement, saying in an article that Li was morally unqualified because of Baidu’s insufficient regulation of advertising. The article went viral on social media but was removed over complains of libel by Baidu.
Li would not be the first controversial engineer to become an academician, which carries perks such as stipends and medical services. In 2011, the public was outraged when Xie Jianping, a chemical engineer who created less harmful tobacco products, became an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Baidu came under fire in 2016 when Wei Zexi, a 21-year-old student from Xidian University in Shaanxi province, died from a rare cancer of the soft tissue. Wei was researching the disease on Baidu and came across an advertisement for treatments that proved ineffective.
After Wei’s death, Baidu announced a sweeping restructuring and optimization of its medical business, especially regarding its paid listing practices. It also tightened regulations on medical promotion and enforced clear labeling rules that differentiate advertisements from credible medical information, according to media reports.
However, medical advertising remains one of the key sources of income for Baidu, and some are still trying to exploit the system. In April, the police in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, detained a team of medical fraudsters who drove up rankings on Baidu’s research results to promote faulty hospitals to patients, local authorities said.