Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Hundreds of Chinese researchers are sanctioned after mass retraction

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 10 August 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3838

Rapid Response:

Re: Hundreds of Chinese researchers are sanctioned after mass retraction

The series of retraction scandals happening in China actually revealed the weak points of the current Chinese physician promotion system and reward polices. So far all of the municipal level hospitals and teaching hospitals in China already respectively developed very detailed promotion rules, mainly based on working years and academic achievements composed of original articles, acquired researching projects and scientific rewards. On the other hand, if people presented papers in high profile journals, especially top class journals, then they will earn very considerable cash prizes (1, 2). And in turn the above mentioned incentive mechanisms were definitely to stimulate publishing activities and to pursue financial benefits for each person involved.

Regrettably, this paid-to-publish phenomenon dramatically jeopardizes our clinical system, in which the performance of physicians or surgeons should be evaluated mainly on clinical experiences or the number of difficult cases rather than by academic projects or highest educational degree. It could also very easily induce academic corruption events by purchasing or plagiarizing papers. In fact, a well-organized and lucrative papers polishing industry has already been established, and only in 2015, the total article processing charges paid by Chinese researchers to open access journals already reached $72.17 million(3).

It is obvious that the Chinese government and healthcare administration should realize the academic crisis and take steps to erase the underlying industry chain. However, one of the most important urgent points in rebuilding Chinese academic justice and fairness should not be neglected -- i.e. reform of the personal promoting system, which should be developed into muliti-modules based not only on academic achievements but also on clinical experiences, and always with highest supervision as well as penalty rules in order to meet the requirement of "zero tolerance" to fraud events.

Collectively, the scandal revealed a “black hole”. Therefore, long term rectification should be anticipated and ultimately accomplished.

1. Alison McCook. Paid to publish: It’s not just China. Retraction Watch 10. August 2018.
2. Stephen Chen. The million-dollar question in China’s relentless academic paper chase. South China Morning Post 15 July 2017.
3. Academics pay journals to publish ghost-written articles to get promotions. 10 October 2016 Globaltimes.

Competing interests: No competing interests

17 August 2017
Wei Huang
Critical Care Medicine
1st Affiliated Hospital of Dalian Medical University
222 Zhongshan Road, Dalian 116023 CHINA