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In the Societies: Professional Ethics Report Fall 2016

Chinese Professional Association Spells Out Unethical Publication Practices
by Sara Hamilton

In recent years a number of prestigious academic journals have been forced to retract dozens of papers due to researcher misconduct in the publishing process. [1, 2]  Many high profile cases have involved Chinese scientists.  In December 2015, the Chinese Association for Science and Technology (CAST) released a statement outlining unethical publishing practices, titled “Five Don’ts of Academic Publishing” [3]. Retraction Watch recently provided a translation of the statement in English that includes the ‘Five Don’ts’ as [4]:

  1. Don’t let a third party write your paper. All researchers should write their own academic papers and resist having third parties write papers on their behalf for publication.
  2. Don’t let a third party submit your paper. All researchers should submit their own papers for publication. This means that researchers must understand the submission and review process, submit their completed papers in person, communicate personally with the editors of the journals, and resist the services of third parties submitting papers for them.
  3. Don’t let a third party edit the contents of your paper. Any third party commissioned by the author to polish the linguistic aspect of a paper should only improve the language expression of such paper based on the original text written by the author, with no content added or revised by unrepresented people.
  4. Don’t provide false peer review information. For the purposes of a proper peer review process, the true names and contact information of the reviewers of the paper should be provided. All researchers must provide reliable information and resist deceitful behavior during the peer review process.
  5. Don’t violate the regulations in academic paper submissions. Any paper submitted should first be reviewed and signed by all authors to signify agreement to publish the paper. If an author disagrees with the paper’s content, it should not be submitted, otherwise all authors shall be responsible for its content. Each author must have a substantial contribution to the paper. If a person did not contribute a substantial amount, they should not sign as an author.

The two practices most explicitly addressed by the statement are third party involvement and rigging the peer-review process. The first involves brokers or companies that will, for a fee, write, submit, or edit an academic paper for the author/s. A Science investigation even found a flourishing market for paper authorship in China, with researchers paying thousands of dollars to have their name added to the author list of a paper with which they had no previous involvement. [5]

Peer-review rigging occurs when authors manipulate the peer review process to produce favorable reviews for an article they submitted. The most egregious cases involve authors posing as other scientists in order to submit positive reviews of their articles to editors.

While both of these fraudulent publishing practices have undoubtedly existed for quite some time, recent concerns about publishing misconduct have increased in the scientific community, as publishers have discovered widespread, systemic clusters of fraud. [1, 6] In 2014 and 2015, the journalists responsible for the blog Retraction Watch counted 270 papers that had been retracted due to peer review rigging alone. [7]

CAST has previously conducted investigations into researchers and institutions that produce fraudulent articles and acknowledged in the statement that the scandals exert ‘a bad influence on the reputation of China’s academics’. [1, 4] Many responses to the statement applaud CAST for setting this precedent, but doubt the statement will have much impact on publishing practices unless it is paired with stricter enforcement of ethical guidelines by universities, government agencies, and industry.

[1] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/11/ china-pursues-fraudsters-science-publishing
[2] http://www.nature.com/news/publishing-the-peer-review-scam-1.16400
[3] http://www.cast.org.cn/n35081/n35096/ n10225918/16823889.html
[4] http://retractionwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/China-5-donts-english2.pdf
[5] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/ 342/6162/1035.full
[6] http://www.nature.com/news/faked-peer-reviews-prompt-64-retractions-1.18202
[7] http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/44895/title/The-Top-10 Retractions-of-2015/