In China, a skewed system leads to sweeping science fraud – China’s latest business and technology news

Business & Technology

A summary of the top news in Chinese business and technology for October 16, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

A clerk counts Chinese yuan and U.S. dollar banknotes at a branch of Bank of China in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Woo

The New York Times reports (paywall) on what has led to China becoming the world’s capital of science fraud, as indicated by it retracting “more scientific papers because of faked peer reviews than all other countries and territories put together” since 2012. The problem became especially visible earlier this year when China’s Ministry of Science and Technology launched an investigation into the retraction of 107 papers from a prominent journal of biology. Based on conversations with scientists in China and other sources in Chinese academia, the Times concludes:

“As in the West, career advancement can often seem to be based more on the quantity of research papers published rather than the quality. However, in China, scientists there say, this obsession with numerical goal posts can reach extremes. Compounding the problem, they say, is the fact that Chinese universities and research institutes suffer from a lack of oversight, and mete out weak punishments for those who are caught cheating.”

This is not to say that China hasn’t made great advances in science, nor that China is failing to attract some of the world’s best scientists. Here are just a few stories from the past couple months:

  • China is leading the world in human genome editing, a potentially revolutionary technology that has many bioethicists on edge.
  • Chinese scientists have invented rice that can grow in salty water, which has the potential to greatly increase the amount of arable land in the country. The largest-yet harvest of this new variety of rice is hitting the shelves next month, SCMP reports.
  • Finally, China is making definite progress in reversing a longstanding brain drain, as many top students are now returning to China for work instead of staying abroad. The Times notes that these students may be bringing back best practices and raising ethical standards, an influence which combined with more sophisticated algorithms to root out plagiarism may help to stem the fraud.