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China’s Universities Conduct Investigations on Multiple Journal Retractions

Chinese universities have launched an initiative to investigate academically unethical papers published in the past five years. They aim to address the country’s high rate of retractions in international journals. Over 30 universities, including Ningbo University, Hangzhou Normal University, and Chengdu University of Information Technology, have announced their intention to participate in the three-month campaign, following a notice by the Ministry of Science and Technology. The focus will be on local research institutes and universities, particularly papers included in personnel assessments or which were awarded performance incentives.

The investigation will target various forms of misconduct, such as plagiarism, duplication, content fabrication, manipulation of peer reviews, ghostwriting for hire, and inappropriate honorary authorship. China ranked second globally in terms of the the number of papers published in top international journals in 2022, but it also had a significant number of retractions. Out of 5,488 retractions indexed in the Science Citation Index (SCI), 2,879 retractions (52 percent of the total) came from China.

This nationwide self-examination and rectification of academic papers is unprecedented in scale, as previous investigations were conducted by individual universities following international retractions. However, there are concerns that relying solely on self-examination may not effectively address the issue, as there is a problem of institutional protection of academic misconduct in China. This protection is attributed to the allocation of research funding, and it suggests that a more comprehensive solution is needed.

Jia Hepeng, a professor at Soochow University, expressed doubts about the long-term impact of this campaign and the centralized research system that heavily relies on quantitative assessment. Despite these concerns, the initiative is seen as a positive step towards addressing academic misconduct and serves as a wake-up call for the academic community in China. While the effectiveness of the campaign-style investigation is expected to be limited, taking action is viewed as preferable to no action at all.

Source: Central News Agency (Taiwan), June 19, 2023