The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued its first policy related to academic ethics on May 30th, 2018, together with the State Council. It introduced in detail a raft of reforms aiming at the improvement of academic integrity across the research spectrum covering funding, job applications, peer-review, and publications. The new policy clarified that a high-level management system for scientific research integrity with clear responsibilities and efficient coordination should be established, requiring that the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) be responsible for the overall coordination and guidance of scientific research integrity in the fields of natural sciences, philosophy, and social sciences. MOST and CASS were also empowered to conduct investigations and to rule on cases of scholarly misconduct, a role previously executed by individual institutions. In addition, the policy stipulated that the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Health and Family Planning Commission, the National News Publication Bureau (NNPB), the China Association of Science and Technology, the Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Social Sciences Fund of China, the Chinese Academy of Science, the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and local governments at all levels and their relevant science and technology planning management departments, education, health, news, and publishing departments should each perform their own supervisory functions to police academic integrity and the execution of specific provisions of the policy. As a very high-profile policy, it has attracted great international attention by introducing a comprehensive punishment system linked to the country's “Social Credit System,” a system which has had a large effect on life in China since its establishment in 2014, and a system where failure to comply with the rules of one government agency can mean facing restrictions or penalties from others. It explains that academic misconduct could be punished by a comprehensive list of penalties, resulting in a kind of accountability system that has never been seen before all over the world. With the goal of building world-class sci-tech periodicals, China's academic journals are likely to undergo severe reform and renovation while they enter a new era of development where opportunities and challenges coexist. The introduction of the so-called “joint” or “social” punishments was heatedly discussed by the media. Public opinion agreed that the new policy on misconduct or “loss of trust” would work effectively if offenders were really given penalties such as restrictions on jobs outside academia or on the granting of a credit card, insurance policy, and even on the purchase of train tickets, on top of the existing penalties, such as losing grants and awards.
Eliminating academic misconduct is a worldwide challenge, an almost insurmountable task to complete. China has long been working toward this goal. The country has so far issued legal documents such as Patent Law, Copyright Law, Standardization Method, Law on Scientific and Technological Progress, Regulations for Academic Degrees, Education Act, The National General Language Law, Regulations for Publishing, and Tort Laws in China. All these laws contain stipulations regarding legal liability for academic misconduct and have been revised many times. Up to now, altogether 23 targeted policies have been made by various governmental agencies, including the NNPB with the now defunct General Administration of Press and Publication of China (2001–2013) and later the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (2013–2018), releasing eight regulations on its own and three together with other units; MOE, which is the second most prolific, issued five notices by itself and four regulations written in collaboration with other units; MOST, the third most prolific, issued rules twice independently, and was the lead or co-author three times respectively; and the State Council which has issued documents three times, twice as the lead author, once in conjunction with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. However, analyses show that although the Chinese central government and academic associations have been working mightily to control fraudulent practices, all their previous policies did not work well to stop scandals. From the “Hanxin event” (Hanxin Shijian) in 2006 to the 107 papers retracted by Tumor Biology in 2017, those continuously happened infamous cases of misconduct demonstrated that the chronic malady of academic misconduct could not be easily remedied. China's zero-tolerance policy of lifelong accountability and joint “social” punishments can be regarded as a wide-ranging system supported by the central government, but to actually implement the laws is no easy job. Persistence in enforcing these laws will test everybody involved. There is no doubt that China is trying to mobilize all possible powers throughout the country to deepen the national reform of academic journal writing and publishing, yet just compiling a national blacklist of “poor quality” journals is already a very hard nut to crack. Therefore, to use the proposed database as a powerful and effective sword of Damocles over researchers and journal publishers to keep them on the right track is really a long-term strategy that requires continuous efforts to make change happen.
This work was supported by a grant from the China National Social Science Fund: the Standardization of Chinese Academic Publication in the Progress of Internationalization (No. 13BXW016).
Conflicts of interest
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