MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

As pointed out previously on this blog, unethical research practices are prevalent in China, but little research has focused on the causes of these practices.

Drawing on the criminology literature on organisational deviance, as well as the concept of cengceng jiama, which illustrates the increase of pressure in the process of policy implementation within a top-down bureaucratic hierarchy, this article develops an institutional analysis of research misconduct in Chinese universities. It examines both universities and the policy environment of Chinese universities as contexts for research misconduct. Specifically, this article focuses on China’s Double First-Class University Initiative and its impact on elite universities that respond to the policy by generating new incentive structures to promote research quality and productivity as well as granting faculties and departments greater flexibility in terms of setting high promotion criteria concerning research productivity. This generates enormous institutional tensions and strains, encouraging and sometimes even compelling individual researchers who wish to survive to decouple their daily research activities from ethical research norms. The article is written based on empirical data collected from three elite universities as well as a review of policy documents, universities’ internal documents, and news articles.

The interviewer, sociologist Zhang Xinqu, and his colleague Wang Peng, a criminologist, both at the University of Hong Kong, suggest that researchers felt compelled, and even encouraged, to engage in misconduct to protect their jobs. This pressure, they conclude, ultimately came from a Chinese programme to create globally recognized universities. The programme prompted some Chinese institutions to set ambitious publishing targets, they say. In 2015, the Chinese government introduced the Double First-Class Initiative to establish “world-class” universities and disciplines. Universities selected for inclusion in the programme receive extra funding, whereas those that perform poorly risk being delisted, says Wang.

Between May 2021 and April 2022, Zhang conducted anonymous virtual interviews with 30 faculty members and 5 students in the natural sciences at three of these elite universities. The interviewees included a president, deans and department heads. The researchers also analysed internal university documents.

The university decision-makers who were interviewed at all three institutes said they understood it to be their responsibility to interpret the goals of the Double First-Class scheme. They determined that, to remain on the programme, their universities needed to increase their standing in international rankings — and that, for that to happen, their researchers needed to publish more articles in international journals indexed in databases such as the Science Citation Index. As the directive moved down the institutional hierarchy, pressure to perform at those institutes increased. University departments set specific and hard-to-reach publishing criteria for academics to gain promotion and tenure. Some researchers admitted to engaging in unethical research practices for fear of losing their jobs. In one interview, a faculty head said: “If anyone cannot meet the criteria [concerning publications], I suggest that they leave as soon as possible.”

Zhang and Wang describe researchers using services to write their papers for them, falsifying data, plagiarizing, exploiting students without offering authorship and bribing journal editors. One interviewee admitted to paying for access to a data set. “I bought access to an official archive and altered the data to support my hypotheses.” An associate dean emphasized the primacy of the publishing goal. “We should not be overly stringent in identifying and punishing research misconduct, as it hinders our scholars’ research efficiency.”

The larger problem, says Xiaotian Chen, a library and information scientist at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, is a lack of transparency and of systems to detect and deter misconduct in China. Most people do the right thing, despite the pressure to publish, says Chen, who has studied research misconduct in China. The pressure described in the paper could just be “an excuse to cheat”.

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It is hard not to be reminded of what I reported in a recent post where it has been announced that a Chinese acupuncture review was retracted:

The research “Acupuncture for low back and/or pelvic pain during pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials,” published in the open access journal BMJ Open in 2022, has been retracted.

This research was press released in November 2022 under the title of “Acupuncture can relieve lower back/pelvic pain often experienced during pregnancy.”

Following publication of the research, various issues concerning its design and reporting methods came to light, none of which was amenable to correction, prompting the decision to retract.

The full wording of the retraction notice, which will be published at 23.30 hours UK (BST) time Tuesday 11 June 2024, is set out below:

“After publication, multiple issues were raised with the journal concerning the design and reporting of the study. The editors and integrity team investigated the issues with the authors. There were fundamental flaws with the research, including the control group selection and data extraction, not amenable to correction.” doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-056878ret

Please ensure that you no longer cite this research in any future reporting.

____________________________

After studying Chinese TCM papers for more than 30 years, I feel increasingly concerned about the tsumani of either very poor quality or fabricated research coming out of China. For more details, please read the following posts:

 

 

One Response to Research misconduct in China: an ever increasing worry

  • Now we have a competition: Who can forge better, the Chinese or the homeopaths?

    Did you know that the German “Bundesministerium für Gesundheit” again is part of the gang?

    [*QUOTE*]
    —————————————–
    Homöopathie konnte in der Bundestags-Anhörung punkten

    Berlin, 3. Juni 2024. Vor dem Bundestagspetitionsausschuss fand heute die Homöopathie-Anhörung statt. Für das Bundesministerium für Gesundheit stand der parlamentarische Staatssekretär Prof. Dr. Edgar Franke (SPD) für Fragen und Antworten bereit. Für die Initiatoren der Bundestagspetition zum Erhalt der Homöopathie in der GKV stellten sich Dr. Stefan Schmidt-Troschke und die Wissenschaftlerin und Ärztin Prof. Dr. Dr. Diana Steinmann den Fragen der Abgeordneten.
    —————————————–
    [*/QUOTE*]

    The source for (and of) this atrocity is the German Medical Association of Medical Doctorers:

    https://www.dzvhae.de/homoeopathie-konnte-in-der-bundestags-anhoerung-punkten/

    [*QUOTE*]
    —————————————–
    Homeopathy scores points at Bundestag hearing

    Berlin, 3 June 2024: The homeopathy hearing took place today before the Bundestag Petitions Committee. Parliamentary State Secretary Prof Dr Edgar Franke (SPD) was on hand to answer questions on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Health. Dr Stefan Schmidt-Troschke and the scientist and doctor Prof Dr Dr Diana Steinmann answered the MPs’ questions on behalf of the initiators of the Bundestag petition to preserve homeopathy in the SHI system.

    Translated with DeepL.com (free version)
    —————————————–
    [*/QUOTE*]

    The acupuncturists and other Chinese medical frauds will have to start a run on the Ministerium to get their feet in.

    Imagine: over 220 years of forgery, and the Ministerium supports it. How big will the support be for Chines forgeries, when the Chinese politicians knock on the door and wave with important medicaments (for “school medicine!) from China being withheld from the world market? China gags the citizens of the world.

    Now, a little pleasure with forging studies will be allowed, won’t it…?

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