What drives scientists to publish their research? The furtherance of science? The recognition? The advancement of one’s career? At many universities in China, researchers are financially incentivised to publish their work, and the extent of this was recently investigated and reported by Quan and colleagues. This study and the potential implications of China’s cash-for-publications reward scheme were discussed in a recent blog on MIT Technology Review.
The study authors describe the hierarchical system used to differentiate universities in China, and how those in the top tiers are offered preferential policies and financial support from the government. Similar to academia in the West, research performance in China is evaluated by the number of papers that are published. As a result, many universities implemented a reward scheme for scientists with the size of payment dependent on the prestige of the publishing journal. For Nature or Science, the average reward in 2016 was $44,000 per paper; for PLoS One, it was $984.
While such schemes have seen a dramatic increase in publication output at these universities, the authors point out this has been accompanied by an increase in academic misconduct in China, and share their concerns that such incentives may cause a shift in behaviour that is more focussed on short-term rewards rather than long-term research goals. The blog authors suggest that if these schemes are to continue and potentially spread to other countries, journals should insist that scientists declare any payments that are received for the publication in order to maintain full transparency.