Editorial:Problems exposed by journal paper about 'boiled eggs that hatch'

【明報專訊】An ''experiment'' was conducted to prove that boiled eggs could hatch after they were ''revived''. An academic journal published the paper of these findings ''without hesitation''. The article provoked a nationwide uproar after being discovered accidentally, and the authorities, with remarkable efficiency, shut down the journal and punished the editor. It is not uncommon in China to have a ''paper'' published with money. Government officials are well aware of the pay-to-publish culture, but they have long ignored the difficulty since it is systemic. However, if it is not resolved, the ambitious goal of rejuvenating the country with science and technology will be nothing but empty talk.

The lead author of the paper was the principal of a vocational school in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The journal that published the paper, Pictorial Geography, had given up the right to examine, approve and edit academic papers to a Beijing-based cultural and creative company in exchange for money. The serial numbers of Chinese publications are scarce public resources. Obtaining the publishing rights is equivalent to obtaining money.

The research papers that scientific researchers write to present their research results are supposed to go through the process of anonymous peer review. When a paper is published, it is monitored by peers around the world. If the methodology or data is found to be somewhat fabricated, the journal that published the paper, the scientific researchers and the universities to which they belong will see their reputations ruined overnight.

Universities have specific requirements for the number of papers that must be published by their faculty members periodically. The number of papers published and the points earned for papers that appear in core journals are the basic criteria for remaining in their jobs and gaining promotion. They also form the basis for applications for research funding.

It is a basic economic law that when demand increases and supply decreases, prices rise. In the case of academic journals, the supply side is controlled by the government. This enables journals to accept money in exchange for the publication of articles. They can even outsource the publications and turn a profit without having to do anything.

The quality of journals is varied. Excessive demand will only lead to the deterioration in quality, since it is no longer necessary to work hard for improvements. This problem may only slow down the progress of technological development. However, a complete collapse of the system will cause technological innovations and inventions to be nothing more than empty talk.

The ''Hanxin'' chip scandal serves as a great lesson. In 2003 Chen Jin, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, claimed to have independently developed a state-of-the-art domestic chip named ''Hanxin''. It was only in 2006 that an article in a bulletin board system hosted by Tsinghua University revealed that ''Hanxin'' was simply a scam. Someone had merely bought a chip from the US, scratched off the original brand name, and pasted the name of Hanxin on it.

Despite the fact that the scandal involved a major chip project in China, someone was able to fool all government officials simply with what they said. What is even worse is that it delayed the pace of independent research on computer chips, the consequences of which are still being suffered today.

Despite such a painful lesson, the national system of the approval and management of academic journals remains at a standstill. This kind of outdated bureaucracy not only harms most scientists, but has also dragged down the progress of scientific innovation. The relevant departments should actively reform the management of journals.

明報社評 2021.05.03:熟蛋返生光怪陸離 制度缺失科技難興










■/ Glossary / 生字 /

hatch /hætʃ/:(of an egg) to break open so that a young bird, fish, insect, etc. can come out

uproar /ˈʌprɔː(r)/:a situation in which people shout and make a lot of noise because they are angry or upset about sth

drag down:to bring sb/sth to a lower social or economic level, a lower standard of behaviour, etc.


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