Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plagiarism rampant in Chinese science journals

There have been several discussions on plagiarism lately on the intertubez (note to self: compile list), so when the following article was sent to my email this afternoon (via Biotechniques) I took note.
Over 31% of submissions to the National Natural Science Foundation of China English-language publications show signs of copying, self-plagiarism, or copyright infringement, according to Helen Zhang, journal director at the Zhejiang University Press in China.
Almost a third?!?
In an article published earlier this year in Learned Publishing, Zhang and her colleagues analyzed manuscripts submitted to the three journals between October 2008 and May 2009. They discovered evidence of plagiarism in 151 out of 622 papers, or about 22.8% of submissions during that seven-month period. In a recent opinion piece published in Nature, Zhang reports that continued data collection analysis shows that the problem is only escalating as the percentage of plagiarized submissions has increased to 31%.
So why all of this plagiarism? The authors of the study claim that it "is a result of the academic world’s emphasis on publishing quantity over quality". I've frequently referred to it as the LPU (least publishable unit) but it seems that some researchers are taking it even further than that.


James said...

This isn't just in China-- there's a decent amount of plagiarism in the US and British journals too. Probably not quite this high, but a problem nonetheless.

The other factor here is that the report cited plagiarism in the English-language journals by the Chinese researchers, so a lot of this is probably just the language barrier. Chinese scientists for obvious reasons would struggle to write in a language so confusing (esp. in its spelling, pronunciation, and grammar) as English, not to mention so radically different from their native Chinese. I had Chinese colleagues who worked for more than 20 years in the USA, and even they had trouble publishing in scientific English-- it's just too complicated a language for them to communicate in, so plagiarism of other English-language articles is the inevitable result.

It's just not realistic to expect China to commit the massive resources it would take to get its millions of scientists utterly fluent in English-language publishing. And with the US and British economic decline, there's just not enough funding to help Chinese researchers learn English while working here anymore, so most Chinese researchers will increasingly be working either domestically or in other research centers (like Germany or Korea). China would probably be better off using those resources to fund new laboratories (and domestic journals) rather than spend it on diminishing returns improving their English. This will be even more so as China grows more confident and economically powerful, especially as the country arrives at #1 world economy status-- there's no way the country would waste its resources on forcing its researchers to publish mainly English-language articles. As Chinese (as well as German) gain more international prestige, it will be more natural to publish in those languages.

Tom said...

Republished over at LabSpaces (comment included, thanks James!)

JLC said...

Then the solution would probably just be to encourage more publishing in Mandarin Chinese language. Benefits and incentives:

- Improve native Chinese scientific journals
- Provide incentives for top researchers to publish in Chinese science journals (and to encourage their research institutions to support this process)
- Boost the national and international profile of publishing in Chinese.
- Chinese researchers can publish in their mother tongue, and so they won't be pressured to plagiarize for a language (like English) that's so different and unfamiliar to them.
- Publishing in one's native tongue is always more efficient and effective for a country, and China is one of the few language and cultural centers large enough to support a massive regional/international scientific community in the Chinese language. (German is probably the other major example given the related history of the German countries as a great scientific center, and their current pivotal position in central Europe and the EU economy. Then e.g. Japanese or Hindi one level behind Chinese and German in that regard, but perhaps also with some potential if their countries become research centers.)

Truthfully, the Mandarin Chinese language has already gone international, with Confucius Institutes sprouting up everywhere and millions of students from Korea, Thailand, Japan, France, Sweden and other Western countries studying it, plus (maybe already) the main language of the Internet. And with automatic translation becoming so efficient (plus easy to Chinese character--> pinyin rendering where necessary), it makes the most sense for China to focus increasingly on native-language publishing. It's the most economically effective way for China and the nearby countries to boost up their scientific base and become international leaders in many fields.