Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mass Production and Mass Fraud

In the field of crystallographic research, the journal Acta Crystallographica Section E: Structure Reports Online serves a special purpose. As its name implies, it collects newly obtained crystal structures and make the data available for other researchers. By its nature, it is relatively "easy" to publish in this journal. One needs to obtain or create a new molecule sample, measure its structure with off-the-shelf instruments, and submit data online. A software program actually creates the report automatically based on submitted information. In essence, the journal is an online database.

Except for the fact that the journal is a part of the Science Citation Index (SCI) since 2001. In recent years, many universities in China has adopted a policy of awarding faculties for publications in SCI journals. So, naturally, this journal became the preferred target where SCI "papers" can be massively produced with relatively little efforts.

This publication boom is quite remarkable, as the following statistics show:

Universitynumber of "papers"first appearance
Nanjing University8122001
Zhejiang University6812001
Shandong University2052002
Jinggangshan University1482005
Sichuan University1162001

Given that the papers are originated from either a single or only a handful of research groups in each school, the numbers tell the story of a purposeful mass production effort.

But it gets worse from here, much worse. Jinggangshan University (井冈山大学) is a relative newcomer in this game but is already getting ahead of itself. It appears that a couple of professors in that school can not even be bothered to mass-produce their papers. It is much easier to simply falsify them, massively!

In an unusual editorial, the journal revealed that they have found at least 70 "papers" from Jinggangshan University to contain fraudulent data:

The initial set of falsified structures arises from two groups. The correspondence authors are Dr H. Zhong and Professor T. Liu, both from Jinggangshan University, Jian, China. The co-authors on these papers included other workers from Jinggangshan University together with authors from different institutions in China. Both these correspondence authors and all co-authors have signed forms agreeing to the retraction of 41 papers published by Dr Zhong and 29 by Professor Liu. Details of these retractions appear elsewhere in this issue of the journal. Having found these problems with articles from Jinggangshan University, all submissions from this University to Acta Crystallographica Sections E or C have now been identified and are being checked for authenticity. Preliminary results indicate that further retractions will result from this exercise.

All Co-editors of Acta Crystallographica Sections E and C have been alerted to these fraudulent practices and have been advised of the warning signs that can be used in most instances to identify such attempts to deceive. It should be noted that many other possibly fraudulent submissions were rejected at the refereeing stage by alert and conscientious Co-editors, but until the scope of the fraud became apparent, these were reasonably regarded as one-off examples of incompetence or honest mistakes.

At Jinggangshan University, the school swiftly fired the two professors named by the Journal and claimed that they had recovered at least part of the associated award money. However, the school was silent on other co-authors in these papers.

Meanwhile, names of other professors who have been mass-producing papers in this Journal continue to be exposed on XYS. A few have gone public to deny wrong-doings or a motive for personal gain. Some are quietly removing the "publications" from their online resumes. One particular researcher has even claimed that he has been doing this on purpose to expose the shortcomings of the SCI-based awarding policies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

please translate or write based on these articles, and then remove my comments. i want to invite my colleagues to read them.

Thank you!