College teachers involved in new academic fraud scandal

08:41, April 08, 2010      

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According to the report of China Youth Daily, over 20 academic articles written between 2004 and 2009 by professors at Jinggangshan University, Jiangxi Province were retracted late last month due to incorrect data.

According to a notice on the UK-based open access database Acta Crystallographica Section E (ActaCryst) on March 17, "after thorough investigation by International Union of Crystallography, 39 additional articles are retracted as a result of problems with the data sets or incorrect atom assignments."

ActaCryst, a database of atomic structures, clarifies that of the 39 articles retracted in total, 23 were by teachers at the university.

Although the university spokesmen insist that the current retraction was due to "unintentional errors," this is not the first time articles by the university's professors have been suspect for academic fraud.

Case history

Last December, ActaCryst editors retracted over 70 publications by instructors at Jinggangshan University for reasons of falsified data.

"Once editors find data discrepancies, they contact the authors and give them the option to retract. But if the author denies any discrepancies, the journal is forced to remove the article themselves," explained Fang Shimin, whose pen name is Fang Zhouzi, scholar and noted public crusader for academic integrity in China.
Ultimately nine articles were retracted by the journal.

Call for accountability

Among the latest articles in question, many were written by influential Chinese scholars, such as two by Xiao Yi'an, president of the School of Life Sciences at the university, as well as Fang Xiaoniu and Sui Yan, president and vice president of the School of Chemis-try and Chemical Engineering at the university. The two had five and seven retracted respectively.

In the previous case, lecturers Zhong Hua and Liu Tao, both lower ranking instructors, were suspended from their duties and expelled from the Communist Party of China for publishing the falsified data used among the 70 articles on ActaCryst between 2006 to 2008.

However, the university's spokesperson Xiao Changchun said in an interview with China Youth Daily that the school began investigating immediately upon hearing of the second retraction, and found the incident different from the previous case, citing the notice released by ActaCryst does not imply falsification.

However, Fang does not accept this explanation.

"Last time it was only two lecturers and they were punished right away. But this time, school leaders are involved and the university wants to protect them," Fang said.

Getting paid

ActaCryst is "a simple and easily accessible publication mechanism for the growing number of inorganic, metal-organic and organic crystal structure determinations," according to the website,

"It is actually a database of one page records of experiments. It is fairly easy to publish an article in it," Fang said.

According to Fang, since ActaCryst is included in the prestigious SCI (Science Citation Index), academics at Chinese universities who get published are awarded around 5,000 yuan ($732) per submission.

"So this has become a shortcut to make money for Chinese college teachers," Fang said.

Fang also cited the university's record for publications in 2007, which shows teachers published 144 theses in the SCI, among which 116 were published on ActaCryst. Almost all teachers in the School of Chemical Engineering pub-lished articles there and received 5,000 yuan per thesis.

The "champion" and "runner up" are Zhong Hua and Liu Tao, earning 195,000 yuan and 140,000 yuan respectively. They were even found to have foregone the simple experiments required for their research, which only take several hours' to conduct, and falsified their data. When they were exposed for forging data sets, other teachers at the university were then implicated.

Fang also said that this shortcut to earn money was not "invented by the university's instructors." As early as 2005, Zheng Yueqing, head of the Ningbo University School of Science in Zhejiang Province, made a fortune by publishing academic articles on the SCI database.

Later, Fang discovered that Gao Shan, a professor in the college of Material Science and Chemistry at Heilongjiang University, was the record holder, publishing one "ActaCryst thesis" every three days.

But in addition to cash incentives, Fang pointed out some deeper-rooted reasons behind the phenomenon. As more and more colleges expand in hope to be granted university status, in order to bolster their record of the academic achievement, to which published articles is a significant measurement.

"The university, therefore, awards teachers money to encourage them to publish as many theses as they can. So, falsification becomes inevitable," Fang said.

When reached for comment by the Global Times by phone, Jinggangshan University's media relations department hung up immediately.

Source: Global Times


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