The Price Of Publication

We’ve read much in the Chinese press about students who email-order theses and professors plagiarizing colleagues. We’ve also read a lot of stories about what companies pay for positive exposure. Cross those two problems and, presto, the pages of many scholarly journals in China today are, apparently, for sale.

According to a probe last week in the Legal Times (Ê≥ïÂà∂Êó©Êä•), payola in the academic press has become an “open secret” (link). Periodicals stand to make a killing. Scholars are shelling out 320 to 700 yuan to publish a 4,000-character paper in an ordinary academic journal. To get play in one of the “core periodicals” (ʆ∏ÂøÉÊúüÂàä) of your field, the price range is 800 to 1200 yuan. The story ledes thus:

Mr. Chu is the deputy chief editor of a music, dance, and arts magazine. The magazine is not a core periodical, but because it is under the authority of an official department, in recent years many academic institutions have recognized it as a “core journal”. All papers published in the magazine, whether by graduating research students or teachers under job review, are regarded as “very useful”.

The magazine first started with 60-plus pages. Later, it expanded to 80 pages, but still that was inadequate. Now, it has expanded to 120 pages. Last year, the fee for one page was 1,000 yuan. This year, the fee has risen to 1,500 yuan. Yet there is still a backlog of many papers that do not come out for months. Concerning the reason for the price hike, Chu explains that it is determined by the market. “If a magazine can publish only 50 papers per edition, while 1000 articles are waiting to be published, then of course we have to raise the price.”

And we freelancers thought we had it rough. Read on…

This unsavory market is fuelled by the swelling graduate class sizes in China, combined with uncompromising job pressures to get published, reports the Legal Times, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Justice-sponsored Legal Daily (Ê≥ïÂà∂Êó•Êä•). Academy of Sciences physicist He Zuoxiu (best-known for censuring Falun Gong back in 1999) tells the paper that China has an estimated 800,000 master’s and PhD students, and all of them have to publish a dissertation in a core journal in order to graduate. Hence many journals are weighing their submissions based on cash they offer, not the quality, says the paper. Scholars call journals that do “cultural prostitutes”.

In turn, those journals that don’t whore their pages are now even more desirable. Teachers are dangling inducements as high as 5000 yuan to appear in one arts top-notch arts periodical that maintains a premium on quality, alleges Chu.

The payoffs are a sensible investment for academics, explains the paper. With the clips, they get promoted and their overall stock rises. Thus they can command higher fees for every class they teach as well as earn grants or other awards. Similarly, journal editors pad their stingy salaries with commissions from selling pages, just as ad salespeople do. At Mr. Chu’s magazine, each editor is privy to five pages per issue.

Because of corrosive pressures to publish, other academics tell the paper, China is churning out massive amounts of “intellectual garbage.” As evidence, the Legal Daily article points to the country’s performance in the U.S. bimonthly Scientific Citation Index. China had 49,788 papers listed in SCI in 2003, up from 8,997 in 1991, and its share of the total was up to 4.5 percent from 1.3 percent. But the total number of instances in which articles from China were cited elsewhere (“cited references”), by SCI’s count, has actually fallen off since peaking in 2000. According to the paper, China now ranks ninth globally in terms of the number of papers listed in SCI and 18th based on its cumulative total of cited references. But the country comes in at No. 124 in terms of the average number of cited references per paper – a key benchmark of quality.

In much the same vein, the latest issue of China Newsweek (中国新闻周刊) carries a screed from Renmin University professor Zhang Ming on the desperate need to put teaching ahead of university rankings and politics. He begins:

The illness of the university is an illness of learning. At universities currently, everyone is very busy. But nobody, in fact, worries about what the university is teaching or how it teaches. Students who are taught this way won’t know how conduct themselves, nor be able to accomplish things.

It’s no longer news that our universities are sick, and that the illness is serious. University graduates can’t find work, and to graduate means to lose one’s job. Recently, the illness has been spreading. Even among Peking University students, there are those selling meat and skewering tanghulu (sugar-coated fruit on sticks)…There are reports of university graduates going to back to technical school for “reheating”. The only thing worth rejoicing is that there are such schools to reheat them…

Here’s the full editorial in Chinese (link).

November 18, 2006, 11:50 PM