Chinese scientists admit to faking research over institutional pressure

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Chinese scientists felt pressured to engage in unethical research practices out of fear of losing their jobs, a study found.

The Chinese government’s 2015 “Double First-Class Scheme” called on universities to boost their global rankings by publishing more articles in international journals. One faculty head reportedly told academics they should “leave as soon as possible” if they did not meet publication targets, according to science journal Nature.

Citing such pressures, academics admitted to “falsifying data, plagiarizing, exploiting students without offering authorship, and bribing journal editors.” However, other Chinese scientists said the paper painted an overly negative picture and that its author only spoke to a small sample of academics.

Research in China suffers from the problem of “bad incentives,” The Economist argued. Chinese universities have published more scientific papers than any other country since 2017, partly owing to researchers being rewarded for quantity over quality: About 46% of around 50,000 retracted studies collated by CrossRef and Retraction Watch are from China. University leaders tend to be government officials who are good at chasing targets but poor at fostering good science, a professor at Hangzhou Dianzi University told the magazine. The problem may not be exclusive to China: A 2023 paper found that the UK’s performance-based funding allocation system incentivized poor quality research, with papers published just before evaluation deadlines featuring in lower-impact journals and receiving fewer citations.

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