Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Illegal trading volume of academic papers reaches US$146.4 mln


Trading academic papers has become big business in China. It has even evolved into an "industry chain" with an annual sales volume of one billion yuan last year, nearly 5.5 times the figure in 2007, Changjiang Daily reports.

The figure was released by a research team headed by Shen Yang, an associate professor with Wuhan University, which has focused on paper trading and illegal periodic publications for three years.

Rigid policy is the root

According to their study, the annual quota of academic papers in China's legal periodicals stands at 2.48 million, yet as many as 11.8 million people are burdened with the task of publishing academic paper, mostly at least one per year.

These people include university teachers, graduate and doctorate students, researchers, civil servants and other employees in special industries like agriculture, engineering and medical care.

Shen says this group is required to submit academic papers under a rigid policy before their graduation, promotion or gaining a professional qualification title. The evaluation of their performance is usually pegged to the amount of papers they published.

Conventional wisdom goes that the more high-quality research papers an organization produces, the more elevated a status it will enjoy among peers, which in turn helps the organization build up its reputation and ultimately garner more benefits.

Professor Shen believes this misguided policy is the underlying cause of the massive frauds in academic research and the thriving of unscrupulous enterprise. Even if people manage to produce the paper, they often have to pay hefty fees to legitimate publishing houses.

Profitable illegal periodicals

The disparity between the supply and demand of the legal paper quota has provided a breeding ground for illegal periodicals.

Surveys show that papers in these publications usually involve mixed topics and lack standard writing.

Shen Yang and his team found that each such book carried around 169 papers on average, most of whose first authors were from the college.

As for the content, 72 percent of the papers in 2007 were completely plagiarized, while 24 percent were partially copied, with only four percent classified as original, according to search results from samples through anti-plagiarism software.

Each false periodical is estimated to earn as much as 720,000 yuan each year due to their low cost and high fees.

Shen says sometimes a dozen illegal periodicals share only two staff members, while their illegal profits can exceed seven million yuan each year.

Paper trading popular among students

With the wide application of anti-plagiarism software at universities, the odds of potential plagiarists being caught have increased. Therefore the business of buying and selling academic papers has become a product of circumstance.

In order to better cater to the needs of customers, the suppliers guarantee the originality and quality of the papers. Hence more people are emboldened to join the ranks of buyers or resort to bogus publication houses, as limited slots with legitimate academic publications have virtually ended their hopes of seeing their papers published.

Take some of the key universities in Wuhan for example. PhD candidates must have one paper published in a top-flight periodic mainstream publication and two on a less influential publication before they can receive their degrees. Even masters and bachelors degree candidates face similar pressure.

To address the root problem, Shen suggests the "Chinese academic regulation" be set up to protect research achievements.

He also says the reform of the Chinese academic paper publishing system has reached a tipping point. To combat corruption in the academic community and efficiently allocate resources, the government should launch an online national academic paper publishing platform and encourage digitalized periodic publications to ensure easy access for peer review.