[BEIJING] China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is to fund a number of the country's scientific journals in a bid to transform them into world-class research publications.
Sun Zhengqi, the MOST official responsible for managing science publication, says the decision was made because the low international profile of most Chinese journals fails to reflect the country's growing world status.
"China has few internationally recognised journals, a situation not tallying with our status as a big country and a strong developing nation in terms of science and technology development," he says.
English-language academic journals and some popular science publications will be first in line for funding, Sun told SciDev.Net. But he would not reveal exactly how many journals will benefit, or what proportion of their budgets the ministry would fund.
"Funding can only be made in a step-by-step process,'' says Sun. He adds that there will be a comprehensive evaluation committee to select which journals will receive the funding, but experts will first be invited to draft a detailed plan of the funding process, criteria for selection and the amount of money involved.
China currently has nearly 4500 scientific journals – about half the national total of magazine titles. In 2003, some 400 million copies of these journals were printed.
Despite these phenomenal figures, many of China's science publications are low-quality, and they can take a long time to review and publish papers. As a result, some cannot keep up with the latest national developments in their fields, said Zhang Yutai, vice-president of the China Association of Science and Technology, at the first China Forum for Science Publications, held in Beijing on 10 September.
Many Chinese journals are also constrained by a lack of funds, poor circulation and low advertising revenues. In China, most scientific journals are published and partially funded by science institutes and government departments. The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) must first approve the publication of any newspaper or magazine, and private ownership and operation of journals or newspapers is forbidden.
"As far as I know, virtually no scientific journal can support itself from its own revenue,'' says Tang Dejiang, editor-in-chief of Beijing-based popular science magazine Newton Science World.
The poor domestic publishing system means that Chinese scientists increasingly choose to publish their findings overseas. The UK science journal Nature reported last week that the number of Chinese scientific papers published in international scientific journals increased twenty-fold between 1981 and 2003 (see NW1590ENG Big increase in Chinese science publishing reported).
According to Sun, however, the main reason the problems facing China's scientific journals is not the lack of funding, but a lack of competition.
"The weak journals cannot be flushed out of the market and end up snatching at the limited resources," Sun says. "Besides funding some key journals, we hope to promote more competition and reorganisation in the field. But the initiative is not under our jurisdiction and it has to be decided by the Party [Chinese Communist Party] propaganda department and GAPP."