Make China journals open access, says top scientist

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[BEIJING] A leading Chinese scientist has appealed for funding to make many Chinese journals open access and give priority to domestic science publications to boost the country’s scientific journals.

"We can invest billions of yuan in big science projects, but we also need to invest a tiny 200 million yuan (US$29.4 million) in an open access fund to help the growth of our journals," said Zhu Zuoyan, the recently retired deputy head of the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC) at a forum on journal development last week (27 August).

He says government-funded open access journals would be a breakthrough for science publishing in China.

Zhu said most international journals are commercially run, which leads them to publish relatively slowly to reduce editorial costs. Domestic journals can publish papers faster.

He added that open access journals prioritise academic merits over commercial interests. A government-funded open access initiative would reduce or eliminate the cost of publishing — enabling Chinese journals to attract more high-quality papers and improve their impact.

Zhu’s remarks come amidst complaints that Chinese scientists are publishing more in overseas journals than domestic ones, which some say endangers the existence of the 5,000 scientific journals published in China.

In 2006, more than 80 per cent of Chinese physics papers published in journals listed in the Science Citation Index (SCI) — a global indicator evaluating the quality of journals — were published in international journals, according to a study by Wang Bingsheng, a leading physicist and editor of the journal Chinese Physics Letters, presented at the forum.

China’s science institutions often evaluate the outputs of their scientists using the impact factors of the journals where they publish their papers. Many international journals have higher impact factors than Chinese ones.

Shi Yigong, a professor of biology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told SciDev.Net that even if Chinese scientists are patriotic enough to publish domestically, many university authorities remain keen on them publishing in international journals with higher impact factors.

But although most international journals have higher impact factors, Wang’s study indicates that the quality of Chinese journals is not necessarily lower.

Wang found that each of the Chinese physics papers published in the five SCI-categorised Chinese physics journals has been cited an average of two times while those published in international journals had 1.8 citations.