China science

Most Chinese scientists write academic papers to get promoted, survey finds

  • Nearly half of those polled said they believed the way the authorities appraised scientific research was ‘misleading’
  • Some say publish-or-perish culture has contributed to academic misconduct in recent years
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 10:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 4:09am

Most Chinese scientific researchers admit they write papers purely for promotion because the country’s academic appraisal system favours quantity over quality.

More than 93 per cent of scientists surveyed by the China Association for Science and Technology said getting promoted was their major motivation to publish papers.

Nearly half of the researchers polled said they believed the way authorities appraised scientific research was “misleading”, according to the survey, which is conducted every five years and this year covered over 48,000 researchers across the country.

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The publish-or-perish culture has contributed to the rampant academic misconduct that has emerged in recent years, according to some researchers.

Now [papers are] the major – or even the only – criterion in appraisals, they could have a bad influence
Wang Pei, doctoral candidate

“Papers are an important channel for academic exchange and demonstrating achievements, but now that they’ve become the major – or even the only – criterion in appraisals, they could have a bad influence,” said Wang Pei, a doctoral candidate at the University of Science and Technology of China’s (USTC) Earth and space sciences school.

The eagerness to rack up published papers had led to recent retraction scandals, he added.

In the latest case, a sociologist from prestigious Nanjing University has had over 100 papers retracted recently by international and Chinese publications.

Liang Ying is under investigation after China Youth Daily accused her of plagiarism and the duplicate submission of at least 15 of her papers, the university said in an announcement last week.

Yuan Lanfeng, a researcher specialising in theoretical chemistry at USTC, said under the existing system, “almost everyone would agree that any paper is linked to the conferring of academic titles”.

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“In fact, many papers are a long way from the pursuit of scientific progress and the authors are well aware of that – so naturally they will say [in the survey] that they are just publishing the papers to get promoted,” Yuan said.

In a directive issued in July, the State Council, China’s cabinet, vowed to eliminate by the end of the year the assessment of research work solely based on the number of published papers.

Instead, it wanted to “establish an assessment system oriented towards quality in innovation and contribution, one that can precisely assess the scientific, technical, economic, social and cultural values of a scientific achievement”.

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The survey also found that researchers’ ownership of patents had gone up in the past couple of years, but there was little relationship between their achievements and market needs. Just 38 per cent of the scientists polled said there were practical applications for their research.

It also found that scientific researchers worked an average of nearly 50 hours a week – 2.4 hours more than they did five years ago. Their wages have increased 22 per cent to about 90,000 yuan a year, but they were less happy with their income now than in previous years.