China cracks down on corrupt science

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The Chinese government has instituted new policies aimed at shutting down corrupt practices in journal peer review and funding that have previously encouraged scientific misconduct.

The country’s most powerful bodies, the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council, introduced a raft of reforms on 30 May aimed at improving integrity across the research spectrum, from funding and job applications to peer-review and publications.

Under the new policy, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) will be responsible for managing investigations and ruling on cases of scientific misconduct, a role previously performed by individual institutions. And for the first time, misconduct cases will be logged in a national database that is currently being designed by MOST.

Inclusion in the list could disqualify researchers from future funding or research positions, and might also affect their ability to get jobs outside academia. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences will oversee the same process for social scientists. The policy also states that MOST will establish a blacklist of ‘poor quality’ scientific journals, including domestic and international titles. Scientists who publish in these journals will receive a warning, and those papers will not be considered in assessments for promotions, jobs and grants. A couple of such blacklists already exist, but rarely are they run formally by a government agency.

In recent years China has been the source of many examples of blatant scientific misconduct, from faking data in papers to getting them peer reviewed by non-existent reviewers. This policy change is aimed at stopping this misconduct, and is likely happening because much of China’s leadership comes from its space industry, which requires honesty in its work or the rockets will crash.

At the same time, the policy gives the government great power over all scientific work, and we all know what happens eventually when you give the government great power. While the goals here are laudable, and will likely in the near future produce positive results, the long term consequences will likely end up stifling independent research.


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