Mainland China’s authorities must act on faked research
Thanks to the rapid and loosely regulated development of academic, scientific and medical research in the mainland, fraud has been reported on an unprecedented scale. But if these irregularities are not weeded out, it’s genuine research that will suffer.
China is now one of the world’s largest producers of academic papers, contributing more than 300,000 works to international journals annually. These count towards researchers’ salaries, funding grants and promotions. To benchmark performance, the government relies heavily on publication in peer-reviewed journals. This opens a window for abuse, as other countries have found. Thanks to the rapid and loosely regulated development of academic, scientific and medical research in the mainland, fraud has been reported on an unprecedented scale.
One example is the retraction by an international publisher of 107 research papers involving 524 Chinese doctors in the journal Tumor Biology between 2012 and last year, after it learned the authors had supplied made-up contact information for third-party reviewers. Another is the retraction of hundreds more papers published through various outlets which revealed academics and doctors who were willing to cut corners for quick success. Yet another is the busting of a ring of 78 people who charged some 2,000 doctors thousands of yuan each to cite their work in phoney medical journals. Overworked doctors with little time for preparing papers seem particularly prone to temptation.
Research institutions such as universities can get a lot of government funding if they are ranked highly. Rankings are strongly influenced by peer review. How a paper is evaluated can be based on the number of peer reviews. This has created a big market for fake reviews. Doctors and academics are paying shady agencies to help establish their research credentials.
The government has invested heavily in China’s rise as a scientific power, as reflected by research published in prestigious international publications and the number of patent applications. But, without rigorous audit of the allocation of public money and a chain of accountability, this can create an incentive for all sorts of abuse, corruption and fabrication. If the authorities do not act resolutely to weed out these irregularities, a lot of money may be wasted, to the detriment of genuine research that can really make the world a better place.