英文

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

有人做了一個「實驗」證明煮熟了的雞蛋返生後可以孵出雞仔,竟然有雜誌「毫不猶豫」刊登,意外被發現後引起舉國嘩然,官員效率奇高地查封雜誌和處罰編輯。給錢就可以發表「論文」在內地屢見不鮮。官員熟知這個行規卻長期視而不見,是因為這是制度和結構所造成的難題,但這個問題不解決,科技興國這個宏偉目標只會淪為空談。

肇事的作者是河南鄭州市一間職業培訓學校的校長。刊登實驗報告文章的《寫真地理》雜誌,將文章的審批權出讓給北京一間文化公司,只收取費用而放棄編輯權。內地出版刊物的「刊號」是稀缺的公共資源,獲得出版權相當於獲得利潤。

科研人員的研究結果寫成論文發表,有同行匿名審閱的制度,文章公開發表後,接受全球的同行監督,如果被發現實驗方法或者數據有造假成分,刊登的學刊和科研人員以至其所屬的大學,聲譽都會毁於一旦。

大學對教師定期發表論文的數量有具體要求,論文的數量與發表在核心期刊獲得的分數,是保留教席和升職的基本條件,更是申請科研經費的根據。

簡單的經濟學原理,當需求增加,供應減少,價格就會上升。而在學術期刊的問題上,供應一方是由政府控制數量,期刊就可以收錢發表文章,甚至是將刊物承包出去,什麼都不做也可以「坐地分肥」。

期刊水平本來就良莠不齊,過量的需求只會因為毋須努力改善而導致質量每况愈下。這種現象或許只會使科技進步放緩速度,但制度的完全崩潰,則會導致科技創新與發明變成紙上談兵。

「漢芯」造假案是一個極好的教訓。2003年,上海交通大學教授陳進聲稱自主研發了達到國家先進水平的國產晶片,取名「漢芯」,直到2006年,清華大學的內聯網刊登文章,揭露所謂的「漢芯」,只不過是從美國買晶片回來將人家的牌子抹掉,換上漢芯兩個字的冒牌貨。

國家這麼大的晶片項目,只憑「一家之言」就能輕易地騙過所有的官員,更嚴重的影響是,拖延了國家自主研發晶片的步伐,導致今天還在吃其惡果。

經過這麼深刻的教訓,國家對學術期刊的審批制度和管理制度,仍然停滯不前,這種不思進取的官僚作風,不但害苦了廣大的科學工作者,還會拖了科研創新進步的後腿,有關部門應該大力改革期刊的管理。

■/ 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.

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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