China launches crackdown on academic fraud after Springer retract 107 Chinese-authored papers

Print

 Fabricated, Fake Peer Review Reports

China launches crackdown on academic fraud after
Springer retract 107 Chinese-authored papers

BEIJING: Chinese authorities are cracking down on academic fraud after an international medical journal retracted 107 Chinese-authored papers from the past five years, in the biggest case to date of fake peer reviews to endorse research.

Springer, publisher of the journal Tumor Biology, said the retractions were made because the peer review process — in which an independent academic recommends a paper for publication — had been “deliberately compromised by fabricated peer reviewer reports”.

China’s ministry of science and technology said this week that the incident had “seriously harmed the international reputation of our country's scientific research and the dignity of Chinese scientists at large”. It vowed a “no tolerance” approach to academic fraud. The government pledged to investigate the papers’ authors and may strip them of their academic roles. All grant funding to the academics involved has been halted.

Academic publishing is the latest sector of the Chinese economy to encounter fake products, sales figures or reviews. Ecommerce has been plagued by waves of fake orders designed to improve the rankings of online sellers, while the cinema industry has been embroiled in a controversy over government attempts to censor unfavorable reviews of Chinese-made films.

China’s race to become a world leader in science and technology has led it to become the second-biggest source of academic publications globally. However, the pressure applied to academics to publish or perish has had adverse effects, said Zhang Yuehong, an editor of the Journal of Zhejiang University.

In recent years, China has seen a surge in academic scandals in medicine and biology. Ms Zhang, who pioneered anti-plagiarism software in scientific publishing, called biotechnology a “disaster area”. Last year, the food and drug regulator found that 81 per cent of applications for drug approvals were withdrawn after the pharmaceutical companies were asked to check their clinical data. The US, which had led the world in academic retractions over the past three decades, was overtaken by China in 2009, according to a paper by Michael Grieneisen and Minghua Zhang at the University of California, Davis.

China and the US continued to have high numbers of retractions since 2010, but China’s rate was roughly the global average when taking into consideration the volume of papers produced, said Harry Xia, president of the Alliance for Scientific Editing in China. The difference was that Chinese retractions were more likely to be associated with academic misconduct, Mr. Xia added. China leads the world for articles retracted due to fake peer review, according to data from Retraction Watch, an NGO that tracks academic retractions.

In 2015, the British Medical Journal’s BioMed Central retracted 43 papers on suspicion of fake peer reviews, of which 41 were by Chinese authors. In addition, the rise of scientific editing companies has led to researchers paying not only for proofreading or checking English translations, but for scientific scrutiny and even additional data, according to a paper by Karen Kaplan, an editor at the journal Nature.

The government-backed National Natural Science Foundation of China said that 28 of 117 Chinese papers retracted by major international publishers from 2015-16 had been “touched up” by companies, with some being “bought from and written by others”. One possible reason for the higher rate [in China] is the large bonuses paid to researchers who publish in prestigious journals,” said Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch. Not only university researchers but also practicing doctors in China are required to publish in international journals to get promoted.

“China needs to let scientific research calm down. The research world here is too fickle and impatient,” said Ms Zhang.  Source: https://www.ft.com

© Professional Medical Publications. All rights reserved.