Science journal retracts 107 research papers by Chinese authors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

A major international publisher has retracted 107 research papers by Chinese authors after learning about irregularities in their peer review process.

The Springer Nature publishing company said on Thursday the papers were published in the journal Tumor Biology between 2012 and last year. The authors supplied the journal’s editors with made-up contact information of third-party reviewers.

“In order to clean up our scientific records, we will now start retracting these affected articles,” Springer said in a statement.

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The company discovered the issue as part of an investigation into a similar problem at the same journal that emerged last year in relation to 25 separate papers, most of which came from Iran.

The latest move constitutes the single largest withdrawal of academic papers, according to Retraction Watch, which monitors academic fraud.

Some of the Chinese authors involved hailed from top schools such as Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Fudan University and China Medical University – the first higher education institution established by the Communist Party.

Wang Chunfa, party secretary of the government-funded China Association for Science and Technology, met Springer’s China representatives in Beijing two days before the retractions were announced and asked whether the move was aimed at Chinese authors. Springer’s representative Arnout Jacobs said the retraction was carried out at the global level and not aimed at China, according to an association statement.

Springer did not immediately respond to a request for ­comment.

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China is one of the world’s largest producers of academic papers, contributing more than 300,000 works to international journals annually. The government has used publication in peer-reviewed journals as an important benchmark to evaluate researchers’ performance, which in turn affects their salary, funding applications and promotions.

Most of the problematic papers dealt with medicine. A Shanghai-based life scientist who asked not to be named said: “I understand they are busy treating patients. They do not have time to do proper research, but to pass the government’s evaluation they must come up with some papers. The external pressure should not become an excuse to cheat. If we cannot count on them for credible research, we cannot count on them to save lives.”