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Universities look for misconduct in retracted papers

By Liang Shuang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-05 10:12

China's Ministry of Education has asked universities to look for possible academic misconduct following "massive" retractions of research papers submitted by Chinese researchers at some foreign publications last year, according to the websites of several universities.

Henan Finance University, based in Zhengzhou, Henan province, is among the universities. It said in a notice last week that the university is launching a campaign to check for possible breaches of academic ethics among retracted papers.

According to a circular the university had put up, the Henan Provincial Department of Education told colleges in the province that since last year, multiple foreign publications, such as Hindawi, retracted Chinese research papers "in large amounts", which led to "severe negative influence" on academic credibility and atmosphere.

Sending a short list of retracted papers to the provincial department, the Ministry of Education said that the main reason for the retractions included suspected peer review manipulation, fabricated experiments and ghostwriting, which suggested the involvement of so-called paper mills — underground companies that "manufacture" academic papers in large quantities and sell them to researchers.

The provincial department told universities to thoroughly investigate the list of retracted papers on the whole process of paper writing, such as how the research idea came to be, how the data was obtained and how the paper was submitted.

Henan Finance University asked its researchers to comb through various academic databases and make a full list of retracted papers since 2021. Authors of these papers will be told to verify the reason for the retractions, and sign a document declaring their academic integrity if no misconduct is found, or deal with the misconduct in accordance with existing rules.

Although the Ministry of Education did not reveal the content of the circular on its website, similar inspection campaigns have also been announced by institutions such as Wuhan University and Shandong University.

Retractions of academic papers, especially those involving medical research, have been reported by the media, and authorities have been taking steps to punish the misconduct and look for a long-term mechanism to prevent similar actions.

The Ministry of Education's bureau on scientific education publicized about 100 cases involving misconduct in medical research papers in 2021. Individuals exposed in the cases received punishments such as fines, and restrictions in project application and in promotion.

The Henan Provincial Department of Education also said in the notice that a long-term mechanism should be established, including reforms on the professional ranking system to "turn around the inclination of only focusing on the quantity of published papers and ignoring the quality", and to "restrict low-quality papers".

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