China to crack down on fraud in scandal-hit scientific research amid ZTE wrangle

New national guidelines spell out punishment for plagiarism, fabrication of data and research conclusions, ghostwriting and peer review manipulation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 11:03pm

China has issued the first national guidelines to enforce academic integrity in scientific research and vowed to punish academics and institutes for misconduct such as plagiarism and fabrication of data.

The guidelines were released after President Xi Jinping on Monday called for China to become a top leader in technology innovation and to make breakthroughs in core technologies as soon as possible.

China’s reliance on the West for technology such as microchips became conspicuous after Xi personally asked US President Donald Trump to intervene in a US ban on selling American components to ZTE, China’s second-largest maker of telecom network equipment.

The ongoing ZTE wrangle has sparked a wave of soul searching in China about why it has to rely on imports for core components such as microchips despite substantial government investment in the technology sector, including under its “Made in China 2025” strategy.

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On Monday, Xi said China must “climb to the top of the world as a leading player in technology”.

The guidelines issued by the cabinet on Thursday come as Beijing is expected to give a significant boost to science and technology research in the wake of the ZTE ban, which is part of a broader trade dispute between China and the United States.

Researchers and institutes involved in misconduct including plagiarism, fabrication of data and research conclusions, ghostwriting and peer review manipulation will face severe punishments, Xinhua reported.

Scandals involving plagiarism and fabrication of research findings have become more prevalent in recent years. Springer Nature last year retracted 107 papers published in Tumor Biology between 2012 and 2017 after an investigation found the authors had supplied the journal’s editors with made-up contact information for third-party reviewers.

After the ZTE ban, media and online commenters also recalled a scandal from 2006 over a much-hyped digital signal processing chip, dubbed the Hanxin, or Chinese chip, which was later exposed as a fraud.

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Under the new rules, anyone who violates academic integrity could have their projects cancelled and their sponsorship and funds withdrawn. Honours would be revoked and they could lose their teaching post or be expelled.

“Those who are found to have committed academic misconduct will be banned from teaching or doing any kind of research work in government-run schools and scientific institutions. Their research grants will be cancelled and honours revoked,” the guidelines read. “There will be ... zero tolerance of behaviours that violate integrity in scientific research.”

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The Ministry of Science and Technology and state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences will coordinate and manage enforcement of the guidelines.

An editorial in the ministry’s official newspaper, Science and Technology Daily, said it was a significant move for “building China into a scientific power”.

“This is the first time we’ve had a comprehensive and systematic approach from both the party and the state to maintain the integrity of scientific research,” it read.

The newspaper said integrity problems were still rife in some areas, including exaggerating achievements, plagiarism and fabricating data.

“Some of these are not only moral issues but they could also be breaking the law,” the editorial read.

The science ministry will also blacklist any domestic or international journal that ignores academic quality in pursuit of high payments – any papers published in those journals will not be recognised for various assessments, according to the guidelines.

The evaluation system for scientific research will also be reformed, with integrity a key factor, while papers, patents, honorary titles and awards will not be part of the assessment.