Science paper trade booms in China

Chinese scientists face enormous pressure to publish research Copyright: Flickr/Nic's events

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[BEIJING] Researchers and lecturers desperate to succeed in China’s ‘publish or perish’ system have driven a five-fold increase in the country’s scientific ‘paper trade’, a researcher has found.

The business of scientists paying for publication — sometimes of ghostwritten material or publication in illegal journals — was worth one billion Chinese yuan (around US$146 million) in 2009, five times larger than in 2007.

This was according to Shen Yang, a management studies researcher at Wuhan University, who released his assessment of the trade to the media last month (January).

Shen described China’s publishing process as "a massive and integrated production chain" in his research.

He defined five questionable paper-publishing practices in China: charging exorbitant publication fees, where instead of a peer review systems authors pay hundreds or thousands of yuan for publication in a journal; the establishment of illegitimate journals; ghostwriting of papers; paper brokering, where authors pay agencies to get their papers published in particular journals; and the fabrication of awards by illegitimate journals.

This trade is a product of the way Chinese universities and research institutions use rates of publication as a measure of performance and eligibility for promotion or graduation, wrote Shen. Many institutions, for example, stipulate that doctoral candidates cannot gain their PhD unless they have published one paper before graduation.

As a result, researchers and academics — particularly those in lesser universities or institutes — plagiarise or buy papers.

China has almost 9,500 academic publications that generate about 2.5 million papers per year, according to Shen’s figures. But there are 30 million teachers, lecturers, students, technicians and researchers seeking publication.

This shortfall has spawned many illegitimate journals, wrote Shen, which are usually larger than recognised journals but use a smaller font size to contain as many papers as possible.

Fang Zhouzi, a critic who has been fighting academic fraud in China for years, told SciDev.Net that the country’s current academic system makes researchers’ fraud a profitable business.

Local governments are increasingly funding research, so there is more money available for economically-motivated researchers. And the pressure to publish, coupled with a lack of effective monitoring and penalty systems, has lead to the proliferation of fraudulent behavior, Fang explained.

Fang is also concerned that Chinese academic supervisory organisations, such as the authority that provides publication licenses, turn a blind eye to fraud.

Shen called for an end to the paper publishing burden on teachers, researchers and students. He also suggested the development of online publications to reduce printing costs.