Publish or perish in China

Nature 463, 142-143 | 12 January 2010 | by Jane Qiu
mercredi 19 septembre 2012
par  antonin
1 vote

The pressure to rack up publications in high-impact journals could encourage misconduct, some say.

The latest in a string of high-profile academic fraud cases in China underscores the problems of an academic-evaluation system that places disproportionate emphasis on publications, critics say. Editors at the UK-based journal Acta Crystallographica Section E last month retracted 70 published crystal structures that they allege are fabrications by researchers at Jinggangshan University in Jiangxi province. Further retractions, the editors say, are likely.

Chinese universities often award cash prizes, housing benefits or other perks on the basis of high-profile publications, and the pressure to publish seems to be growing. A new study from Wuhan University, for instance, estimates that the market for dubious science-publishing activities, such as ghostwriting papers on nonexistent research, was of the order of 1 billion renminbi (US$150 million) in 2009 — five times the amount in 2007. In other studies, one in three researchers surveyed at major universities and research institutions admitted to committing plagiarism, falsification or fabrication of data.

"The extent of the misconduct is disturbing," says Nicholas Steneck, director of the Research Ethics and Integrity Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "It highlights the challenges China faces as it struggles to rapidly improve the research capacity of a very large system — with significant variations in quality — to be a world-class player in science."

Two weeks ago, reacting to the retractions of the crystallography papers, Jinggangshang University fired the correspondent authors, Zhong Hua and Liu Tao. It is unclear whether their co-authors, who include researchers from other institutions in China, will also be investigated.

The journal’s editors say that the discrepancies came to light during tests of software designed to flag possible errors and unusual chemical features, such as abnormal distances between atoms. The software identified a large number of crystal structures that didn’t make sense chemically ; further checking, the editors say, suggests that the authors simply changed one or more atoms of an existing compound of known structure, then presented that structure as new. Zhong and Liu could not be reached for comment.

Editors at the journal are now checking the authenticity of other published crystal structures, including all submissions from Jinggangshan University.

Half of the 200,000-odd crystal structures published by the journal during the past five years have come from China. William Harrison, a chemist at the University of Aberdeen, UK, who is one of three section editors for the journal, would not discuss the ongoing investigation but says that the generation of large numbers of structures by one group would not necessarily raise questions, because diffractometers can easily collect a couple of data sets a day. "In terms of papers submitted to Acta E, the vast majority coming from China are correctly determined structures, and they make a valuable contribution to science," he says.

Nevertheless, the Wuhan University study suggests that misconduct could be widespread in many fields. The team, led by computer scientist Shen Yang, used website analyses and onsite investigations to identify a wide range of dubious publishing activities. These include ghostwriting theses and academic papers on fictional research, bypassing peer-review for payment, and forging copies of legitimate Chinese or international journals.

The researchers analysed the most popular 800 websites involved in such activities — which together rack up 210,000 hits a day — and found that the cost of each transaction is typically 600–12,000 renminbi. Three-quarters of the demand comes from universities and institutions, says Shen. "There is a massive production chain for the entire publishing process," he says.

Concerned by such trends, China’s science ministry commissioned a survey of researchers, the results of which remain under wraps. However, several sources revealed to Nature that roughly one-third of more than 6,000 surveyed across six top institutions admitted to plagiarism, falsification or fabrication. Many blamed the culture of jigong jinli — seeking quick success and short-term gain — as the top reason for such practices, says Zeng Guoping, director of the Institute of Science Technology and Society at Tsinghua University in Beijing who was involved in running the survey.

The second most-cited cause is bureaucratic interference in academic activities in China. Most academic evaluation — from staff employment and job promotion to funding allocation — is carried out by bureaucrats who are not experts in the field in question, says Fang Shimin, a US-trained biochemist who runs a website called ’New Threads’ that exposes research misconduct in China. "When that happens, counting the number of publications, rather than assessing the quality of research, becomes the norm of evaluation," he says.

Cao Nanyan, a colleague of Zeng’s at Tsinghua, conducted a similar survey commissioned by the Beijing municipality, which surveyed 2,000 researchers from 10 universities and research institutions. It, too, found that roughly one-third of respondents admitted to illegitimate practices.

To critics such as Rao Yi, dean of the life-science school at Peking University in Beijing, the lack of severe sanctions for fraudsters, even in high-profile cases, also contributes to rampant academic fraud. Many researchers criticize the fact that Chen Jin, a former researcher at Shanghai Jiao Tong University who is accused of falsely claiming to have developed a series of digital signal-processing chips, was fired with no other repercussions. Meanwhile, others involved in the scandal have gone unpunished.

"You send out a very wrong signal when such high-profile cases are not dealt with properly," says Rao.

Read on Nature website

Picture : Under pressure : one-third of researchers surveyed in China admit to plagiarism, falsification or fabrication of data. (credit : K. Brofsky/Getty)










Aucun évènement à venir les 2 prochains mois


New Analysis of Employment Outcomes for Ph.D.s in Canada

Thursday 5 February 2015

An analysis of where Canada’s Ph.D.-holders are employed finds that just 18.6 percent are employed as full-time university professors. The analysis from the Conference Board of Canada finds that nearly 40 percent of Ph.D.s are employed in higher education in some capacity, but many are in temporary or transitional positions. The other three-fifths are employed in diverse careers in industry, government and non-governmental organizations: “Indeed, employment in diverse, non-academic careers is the norm, not the exception, for Ph.D.s in Canada.” - Inside Higher Edu, January 8, 2015

[Sweden] New legislation to help foreign postgraduates stay on

Sunday 27 April 2014

On 1 July this year, new legislation will come into force in Sweden that includes measures which will make it considerably easier for foreign doctoral candidates and students to stay and work in the country after graduating.

An agreement between the outgoing Alliance government and the Swedish Green party will secure a majority vote for the proposal in the parliament. (...) – University World News, by Jan Petter Myklebust, 21 March 2014 Issue No:312

On the Web : Full news here

US : Dwindling tenure posts

vendredi 18 avril 2014

Tenure is dying out at US universities.

The proportion of non-tenure-track and non-tenured faculty posts continues to rise across all US institutions, finds a report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington DC. Losing Focus : The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 201314 surveyed 1,159 public and private US institutions and found that the overall proportion of assistant professors in non-tenure-track posts was 23.4 for 201314, compared with 20.8 in 201011. Dwindling tenured and tenure-track posts threaten the ability of scientists to conduct research without interference from funders or administrators, says John Curtis, the report’s lead author and director of research and public policy for the AAUP. - Nature, 508, 277, 09 April 2014

Sur le Web : Read on

Les coupes budgétaires pèsent sur la recherche académique américaine

jeudi 12 décembre 2013

Aux USA, les répercussions des coupes budgétaires fédérales pour la recherche académique sont bien visibles selon une études récentes :

  • moins de place pour les étudiants dans les labos (stages, doctorat, ...) : - 31% ;
  • moins de CDD à temps partiel : -30% ;
  • moins de postdoctorants : - 24% ;
  • moins de postes fixes dans 22% des cas.

Une recherche académique en récession aux USA...

Étudiants étrangers : la sénatrice Dominique Gillot dépose une proposition de loi visant à améliorer leurs conditions d’accueil et de séjour

vendredi 15 février 2013

« Il n’est (?) ni dans l’intérêt des pays d’origine, ni dans le nôtre, de renvoyer chez eux les étrangers dès la fin de leurs études. Au contraire, c’est après au moins une première expérience professionnelle que ces diplômés pourront, à leur retour chez eux ou à l’international, mettre à profit les compétences acquises en France et en faire la promotion. » Voilà ce qu’écrit Dominique Gillot, sénatrice (PS) du Val d’Oise, dans l’exposé des motifs de la proposition de loi relative à l’attractivité universitaire de la France qu’elle dépose mardi 12 février 2013.

« Droit illimité au séjour » pour les diplômés d’un doctorat français. Dans son article 4, la proposition de loi « crée un droit illimité au séjour en France pour tout diplômé d’un doctorat obtenu en France, à qui la carte ’compétences et talents’ est délivrée sur sa demande ». Il est précisé que « cette disposition a vocation à favoriser les échanges entre les pays d’origine et la France, permettant de développer une coopération économique continue, enrichissante, sans pillage des cerveaux des pays émergents ».

Soutenir par un don