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CHINA: Crackdown on sub-standard journals

A number of academic journals and magazines have been ordered to cease publication by the Chinese authorities in a new crackdown on sub-standard academic papers in China.

During a meeting last week the powerful General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), the government agency that regulates overseas news and other publications, decided to 'punish' eight journals and ordered six to cease publication.

These include China High Technology Enterprise, Today's Science Parks and Heilongjiang Science and Technology Information.

GAPP found that the publications were unable to guarantee the quality of academic papers, according to official reports of the meeting.

In one case a journal published up to 200 academic papers in a single edition.

The Chinese authorities are determined to increase the supervision and the peer evaluation of academic journals, which are being criticised internationally. The government has said for some time that it wants reduce the burgeoning number of journals published and bring in more quality control.

Li Donggong, Deputy Director at GAPP, said in a speech last September that research publishing needed reform because of the "large gap between quality and quantity".

The Chinese government said last year that as of January 2011, new regulations would be in place to terminate the publication of poor journals. These would include the consolidation of academic publishing groups into five to 10 large publishers.

Almost every science organisation in China publishes its own journal, according to academics. Official figures show that around 8,000 journals are published, some 4,600 of them in different scientific fields with many of the articles rarely cited. Most journals are supported or owned by federal, provincial or local governments, with a very small number privately owned.

According to a survey last year by four members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, academic journals can earn tens of millions of yuan a year by charging a publishing fee. The survey estimated the output value of published papers to be 180 to 240 million yuan (US$27.4 to $36.5 million) in 2009.

GAPP said it also wanted to "clarify the boundaries between academic and non-academic journals," the newspaper Media in China reported. The distinction has become blurred in the rush by many Chinese academics to publish as frequently as possible, often before scientific or other research results have been completed, to ensure promotion within the university system.

The National Natural Science Foundation in Beijing has complained for years that low-quality scientific journals have been hindering Chinese science, and suggested that as many as a third of them should be shut down.

Other organisations have also openly said that the quality of research papers in China, which can be easily published in sub-standard journals, has been damaging the country's research reputation abroad.

Fang Zhouzi, who runs the China academic and integrity website that has uncovered many instances of academic misconduct, said the academic appraisal system was weak and over- emphasised quantity rather than academic quality. "Some even resort to stealing others' work or simply make up the data to get a paper published," he said.

Even China's more reputable journals have problems with quality.

A staggering 31% of papers submitted to the Journal of Zhejiang University-Science, or 692 out of 2,233 submissions in the two years to September 2010, were found to be plagiarised after the journal brought in special cross-referencing software. It is designated as a key academic journal by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Last year Wu Haiyun, a cardiologist at the Chinese PLA General Hospital in Beijing, was widely quoted as saying that only 5% to 10% of journals were worth saving, describing the rest as "information pollution".

It is thought that 'punishment' meted out by GAPP to journals that fall short on quality but are not ordered to be closed, include reconstituting the editorial board.

Related links

CHINA: Universities fail to tackle plagiarism
GLOBAL: New code to promote academic honesty
CHINA: Plagiarism professor stripped of prize
CHINA: Phd quantity surpasses quality
CHINA: Academic corruption undermining universities
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