Education minister resigns over research fraud scandal
The minister has said he will return to teaching at National Central University in Jongli in northern Taiwan. He was president of the university before joining the cabinet in February 2012, the state-run news agency CNA reported.
Sun Lih-chyun, spokesperson for the Executive Yuan – roughly equivalent to Taiwan’s cabinet – confirmed that the minister’s resignation had been accepted by Premier Jiang Yi-huah, and that Deputy Minister Chen Der-hwa would assume the role of acting education minister until a successor was formally announced.
Chiang said in a statement that the decision to resign was made to uphold his own reputation and avoid unnecessary disturbance of the work of the education ministry, after the incident ignited a wave of public criticism.
Chiang co-authored several of the retracted papers with Peter Chen, a former associate professor of computer science at the National Pingtung University of Education in southern Taiwan. Chen resigned from the institution in February following an investigation the university conducted after being alerted by the publisher SAGE.
The minister worked at National Central University when the papers were written but claims he had no knowledge of Chen’s activities.
Chiang’s resignation came a week after Premier Jiang ordered the Ministry of Science and Technology to look into the allegations, and urged Chiang to “release all information” as soon as possible.
The Ministry of Science and Technology said last week that it may have funded the research for 40 of Peter Chen's questionable papers amounting to some NT$5.08 million (US$169,164), according to Lin Yi-bing, vice-minister of science and technology.
He said in remarks released last Sunday that if Chen was found to have violated academic ethics, the science ministry would demand a return of any research funds awarded to him and bar him for life from applying for such funding.
The minister’s resignation came as prosecutors announced that they were launching an investigation into the allegations highlighted by SAGE. The Pingtung district prosecutor's office said Chen could face forgery charges if the allegation is proved true.
SAGE, the British publisher of the Journal of Vibration and Control or JVC, where the papers appeared, announced on 8 July that it had withdrawn 60 papers written by Chen, saying he had created a citation ring involving some 130 academic names and used a number of false email accounts to “subvert” the peer review process.
“The full extent of the peer review ring has been uncovered following a 14-month SAGE-led investigation, and centres on the strongly suspected misconduct of Peter Chen, formerly of National Pingtung University of Education, Taiwan, and possibly other authors at this institution,” SAGE said in its statement earlier this month.
“While investigating the JVC papers submitted and reviewed by Peter Chen, it was discovered that the author had created various aliases on SAGE Track, providing different email addresses to set up more than one account.
“Consequently, SAGE scrutinised further the co-authors of and reviewers selected for Peter Chen’s papers, [and] these names appeared to form part of a peer review ring. The investigation also revealed that on at least one occasion, the author Peter Chen reviewed his own paper under one of the aliases he had created,” the publisher said.
The publisher’s statement drew widespread attention at the time, not because of the link to Chiang but because of the large number of articles retracted.
Although citation rings are not common, the case follows that in 2012 of Hyung-In Moon, a South Korean plant compound researcher who made up email addresses in order to do his own peer review, according to the monitoring website Retraction Watch, which said that up to 35 papers by Moon had been retracted from healthcare journals.
Chen twins’ statements
In an attempt to limit the damage to the minister in the last week, Chen attempted to put some distance between himself and Chiang. But he was unable to shake off public perception of a link with the minister.
In a statement issued last Sunday apologising to the minister and others, Chen admitted to an “indiscreet practice” of using Chiang’s name in some of the papers without the minister’s knowledge.
Five of the 60 papers, written by CW Chen – Peter's twin brother – bore Chiang's name as a co-writer but also listed Peter Chen as one of the writers.
Chiang was CW Chen’s former thesis advisor. In a statement issued this week CW Chen acknowledged that the papers in question bore Chiang's name without Chiang having been informed in advance because they were a continuation of research on subjects related to his thesis. "It was my decision," CW Chen said.
He said he had also sought the opinion of his twin brother on some of the papers and therefore had listed him as a co-author but had not informed Chiang. His academic advisor and his brother had never met to discuss the papers, CW Chen said.
At an earlier press conference, CW Chen insisted that the minister did not have any links to his brother. Peter Chen and the minister had met on only two occasions, once in 2004 when CW Chen graduated from the doctoral programme at National Central University where the minister was teaching, and at a science forum.
Pressure to publish
The case has also highlighted the pressure on academics to publish in prestigious international journals in order to gain promotions.
Wu Maw-kuen, president of National Dong Hwa University and a former minister of the National Science Council, pointed to the sheer number of papers Chen submitted to the Journal of Vibration and Control for publication, considering the time it takes to write a paper and obtain peer review.
Vice-minister Lin said the quantity of academic papers was a “terrible index” and that too many published articles could hamper applicants’ chances of obtaining research funding from the Ministry of Science and Technology.