For most scientists, publishing an article in a prestigious journal is likely to be recognized and rewarded with attention from one’s peers.
In China, however, scientists are also rewarded with cash, and the more prestigious the journal, the larger the sum, according to a new paper published in the April issue of Learned Publishing.
In their article, “The outflow of academic papers from China: why is it happening and can it be stemmed?” authors Jufang Shao and Huiyun Shen from the Zhejiang University College of Medicine illuminate the academic reward structure in place in China and what is most interesting are the details.
Because of limited international circulation of Chinese journals, there is a real push to have one’s work appear in an international index, such as the Science Citation Index (SCI), Engineering Index (EI), or the Index to Scientific & Technical Proceedings (ISTP). But it doesn’t stop there. Institutions like Zhejiang University rely on a detailed accounting sheet that lists specific monetary rewards for articles according to the journal’s Impact Factor.
For the readers of this blog, I have converted Shao and Shen’s table into US dollars.
- Indexed in ISTP — $92
- Indexed in EI — $275
- Impact factor < 1 — $306
- 1 ≥ IF < 3 —$458
- 3 ≥ IF < 5 — $611
- 5 ≥ IF < 10 — $764
- IF ≥ 10 — $2,139
- Published in Science or Nature — $30,562
While Shao and Shen do not report the salary ranges of Chinese scientists — if anyone can comment on the relative value of these payments to authors, please add a comment below — they do describe how the payments work as incentives for publishing:
The theory is simple and pure economics. Money motivates: pay people to publish in good journals and they try to do so. Monetary rewards are the best; money is a universal reinforcer.
For a country undergoing exceptional scientific and economic growth, providing monetary incentives tied to publication may appear as if free-market economics has taken over the mindset of administrators. Their system clearly and directly rewards scientists who are both productive and publish high-quality work.
However, the system is focused entirely on a single dimension for judging quality — the Impact Factor — and for that reason, we should be worried about how pursuit of this goal may result in distortion and corruption of the publication system. In a 1999 piece in Science, Georg Franck warned that when scientists’ success depends too heavily on citation counts, they will find ways to game the system. He writes:
There are ways of accumulating citations that have little to do with scientific value. The simplest way of circumventing the hurdle of productivity enhancement is the formation of citation cartels. One’s account of citations can also be augmented without enhancing one’s productivity by playing off one’s power as an editor or referee. Why not suppress papers submitted for publication as long as the authors do not understand to whom they owe a citation?
In recent years, Chinese journals have come under scrutiny by government officials for a whole suite of issues (rampant plagiarism, low-quality, erratic publication, and corruption in their author-pays model). Officials have reported in Nature that many of these “weak” journals will be terminated, with hopes of strengthening a small number of Chinese-based publishing houses.
The Shao and Shen article is both fascinating and quite chilling. While I’m not against free-market economics or providing incentives to scientists to be productive and generate high-quality work, I’m concerned about how providing direct incentives to scientists may ultimately corrupt the norms of science. Such a direct compensation model would move science toward a model that more resembles our financial system, where influence is controlled more by financial might than by bright new ideas.
Perhaps this is already happening.