Relieving the Pressure to Publish in China

August 28, 2017 Jennifer Lynch

42-60222037.jpgIn an earlier post, Alexandra Shultz from the American Geophysical Union reflected on the Wiley-organized D.C. “door-knock,” wherein society representatives were given the opportunity to meet with staffers and elected officials on Capitol Hill. I was fortunate to participate, and after a busy and productive day on the Hill, we took a short drive to the Chinese Embassy where we held our final meeting of the day with Chen Futao, Minister Counselor for Science and Technology, and two of his staff.

We spent over an hour discussing various topics, including the way funding is allocated in China and how the instability in the U.S. government is harming scientific collaborations. But what I found most interesting was the discussion around the intense pressure on Chinese researchers to publish. Minister Chen sees this as a major problem that is getting in the way of science. It has made Chinese scientists a target for predatory publishers and undermined interest in long-term, iterative projects. He expressed a desire for scientific societies to help create a new way to evaluate researcher performance. The current method of tying professional growth to publishing output and impact factor can be corruptive.

Our organization, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), and journals, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM) have been working with researchers in China to cultivate a positive publishing experience that not only grows our membership and author pool, but also provides a platform for Chinese scientists that is more focused on the long-term. Since neither of our journals has an impact factor over 3 – though we are close – we have been exploring other ways to entice authors from China, who are still paying close attention to this metric. We have launched a “Global Spotlight” section, which is designed to give prominence to research that has been published in more regionally specific journals. We work extensively with the Asian Journal of Ecotoxicology and have established a reciprocal promotion arrangement. In return for spotlighting their top research in our journal, they translate some of our research into Chinese for promotion to their audience. This arrangement allows authors in both journals to hit exactly the right audiences and has been enthusiastically received. Wiley supports these efforts by maintaining the virtual issue page and promoting the translated articles on Weibo.

We are absolutely in agreement with Minister Chen that there is too much emphasis on impact factor. When we consider individuals for SETAC awards, publication output is only one factor among many. We also consider outreach efforts, contributions to scientific meetings and workshops, and professional reputation as evidenced through letters of recommendation or invitations to sit on review boards and advisory committees, among other factors. We would welcome a more holistic approach to judging professional growth, especially if it encourages strong community engagement.

Minister Chen’s concerns are a reminder that we must challenge the root cause for the rise of predatory publishers: pressure to publish often and in high impact factor journals. There are other ways to promote research and to evaluate individual contributions to the field.

Image Credit: Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Corbis

About the Author

Publishing Director, SETAC //

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