486 face punishment for links to China’s fake research paper scandal
Beijing takes hard line after doctors, academics accused of ‘severely damaging’ country’s international reputation
More than 480 Chinese doctors and academics associated with published research papers that were later deemed to be fraudulent will be punished for damaging the country’s “international reputation”, the government said on Thursday.
The announcement came after major US academic publishing house Springer in April retracted 107 papers by Chinese authors that had been published in the journal Tumor Biology. After publication, the company discovered that most of the peer reviews were fake, having been written either by publishing agents or by the authors themselves under assumed names.
He Defang, director of the policy, regulation and supervision division at the Ministry of Science and Technology, told a press conference in Beijing on Thursday afternoon that an official investigation had identified 521 people, most of them hospital doctors, as having links to the scandal.
Of the total, 486 would face punishment, 24 would be put on a watch list due to a lack of clear evidence, while 11 were completely cleared as their papers had been accidentally retracted by the publisher and were not linked to the fraud, He was quoted as saying in a statement on the ministry’s website.
Of the people facing punishment, “102 should take most of the responsibility [and] 70 should take secondary responsibility”, the statement said.
The remaining 314 were deemed to have “not participated in the making of fraud”, but would be punished anyway as “China’s international reputation was severely damaged by the incident”, He said.
The punishments would range from being deprived of research funding to being sacked and publicly named and shamed, it said.
Academic papers are often penned by multiple authors, with the lead writers taking most of the responsibility for the work’s authenticity. Those who make only minor contributions seldom get involved in the submission, peer review and publication process.
According to a Chinese academic, in most cases of academic fraud – such as the 2014 scandal over stem cell research in Japan – only the lead scientist is indicted.
“But nearly 500 people … it reminds me of the collective punishments in the Middle Age,” the person said on condition of anonymity.
“The solution is not mass punishment, but a reform of the scientific evaluation system so that researchers are not judged and evaluated only by their published work,” he said.
Another researcher, who also requested anonymity, said he applauded the government’s “iron fist” approach.
“The cheating problem in China has become very serious and it will not go away if the authorities play it soft, as they have done many times before,” he said.
The ministry said also that funding to more than 70 government research projects had been suspended due to the scandal.