The Economist has a disturbing article on the extent of academic publishing fraud in China. It’s disturbing that it goes on so much, and should be disturbing that it’s in The Economist:
DISGUISED as employees of a gas company, a team of policemen burst into a flat in Beijing on September 1st. Two suspects inside panicked and tossed a plastic bag full of money out of a 15th-floor window. Red hundred-yuan notes worth as much as $50,000 fluttered to the pavement below.
Money raining down on pedestrians was not as bizarre, however, as the racket behind it. China is known for its pirated DVDs and fake designer gear, but these criminals were producing something more intellectual: fake scholarly articles which they sold to academics, and counterfeit versions of existing medical journals in which they sold publication slots.
As China tries to take its seat at the top table of global academia, the criminal underworld has seized on a feature in its research system: the fact that research grants and promotions are awarded on the basis of the number of articles published, not on the quality of the original research. . .
If there’s one thing that economists are sure of, it’s that you get what you subsidize (even if you might not have realized up front just what it was you were paying for). And if the Chinese establishment has decided that long publications lists are necessary, then long publication lists they shall have. The same thing happens in a drug research department when management is so foolish as to reward people for sheer number of compounds submitted – you get a deluge of amides, sulfonamides, and methyl-ethyl-butyl-futile coupling reactions. One half of the stockroom gets mixed with the other half, in the presence of HATU and/or palladiu, and voila, productivity on a shingle.
At least those are real componds. Apparently, many of the papers being generated under the Chinese onslaught are not just repetitious, bite-sized chunklets of stretched-out lab results, but flat-out fantasies:
The pirated medical-journal racket broken up in Beijing shows that there is a well-developed market for publication beyond the authentic SCI journals. The cost of placing an article in one of the counterfeit journals was up to $650, police said. Purchasing a fake article cost up to $250. Police said the racket had earned several million yuan ($500,000 or more) since 2009. Customers were typically medical researchers angling for promotion.
And this makes you wonder how many of the people doing the evaluating also knew, or suspected, that these journals were fakes, but had reasons of their own to pretend otherwise. Something needs to be done about all this, clearly, but that’s not going to be possible without a lot of disruption. The longer it goes on, though, the worse that disruption might be. . .