Nearly 500 researchers guilty of misconduct, says Chinese gov’t investigation

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Four hundred eighty-six authors have been found guilty of misconduct by the Chinese government, the fall-out from a sweep of retractions by one journal earlier this year.

In April, Tumor Biology retracted 107 papers that had been accepted based on faked reviews. Since many of the authors were based in China, the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) launched an investigation. On Friday, the news outlet Xinhua reported the results of the government’s investigation:

Of the 521 authors implicated, 11 were deemed innocent with 24 still under investigation. Among the remaining authors, 486 authors were found guilty of misconduct at various levels. A total of 102 were found to be mainly responsible, 70 secondarily responsible and 314 did not participate in fraud, said He Defang, a ministry official in charge of rule enforcement.

The 300-plus authors who didn’t participate in the fraud were “blamed for neglecting the management of academic achievements and paper publications,” the outlet reported. While some have suggested that poor supervision should be included as part of the definition of misconduct, typically agencies — including the U.S. Office of Research Integrity — define the term more strictly as falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism.

The investigation concluded that 12 papers had been purchased from a third-party provider, such as a paper mill. Nine of the retracted papers were entirely fake, according to the MST.

The authors are facing major consequences, as Xinhua — a government news outlet — notes:

Altogether 376 authors involved in the scandal have been banned by their institutions from undertaking research programs for various periods of time. They also have their qualifications for promotion canceled, research funds retrieved, and awards and honors revoked.

In addition, they will face punishment according to the Communist Party of China discipline regulations and the regulations on personnel from public institutions, He said.

The MST has suspended the approval processes of 20 national scientific and technological projects that involve 21 authors implicated in the fraud. The Chinese Academy of Engineering has suspended an author’s candidacy to be an academician.

According to Quartz, more than half of papers retracted for fake peer reviews originate from authors based at Chinese institutions.

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