Experts question China’s bid to create world-class journals

"Scientists always prefer to publish in the world’s top journals over domestic ones."

4 September 2019

Hepeng Jia

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Earlier this month, four Chinese government agencies issued a five-point plan to boost its development of academic journals, including proposals for English language titles and scientific publishing groups.

The document, published on 16 August, was approved last year by the country’s most powerful policy-making body, the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission of the Communist Party of China, headed by President Xi Jinping.

It commits to:

  • boosting the development of Chinese language science journals;
  • further supporting locally published English journals to become world leading;
  • forming domestic science journal publishing groups;
  • increasing digitization of journal contents; and
  • attracting global talents to manage China's journals.

Although it did not mention budgets, the report promised to increase the weight of locally published journals, in English and Chinese, in China’s research evaluation and faculty assessment.

“As China is a major contributor and consumer of scientific publications, the move is aimed to increase our influence in the market,” says Fan Jingquan, director of the Center for Journal Management at Huazhong Agricultural University, based in Wuhan, central China.

“A new set of corresponding policies in funding and research evaluation should be enacted soon.”

Shi Yongchao, chief managing editor of Research, an open access multidisciplinary Chinese journal based in Beijing and published in partnership with Science magazine, questions the efficacy of the new policy.

“It’s questionable how the higher weight of domestic journals in the evaluation system can be realized, as scientists always prefer to publish in the world’s top journals over domestic ones if they have good research,” he says,

He adds that the inaccessibility of Chinese language journals to international scholars makes it even harder for Chinese scientists to consider publishing their important research in them.

Wang Jiafeng, an associate professor at South China Agricultural University, says that international journals have more objective evaluation criteria than their Chinese counterparts, and for this reason Chinese scientists often prefer publishing internationally, at least in the short term.

“Even if research institutions give higher weight to Chinese language journals in their faculty assessment, it doesn’t work, because this runs contrary to scientists’ desire to absorb advanced international experience through publication,” Wang told Nature Index.

According to the latest Institute of Science and Technology Information of China (ISTIC) annual report, Chinese scientists published more than 360,000 papers included in the Science Citation Index (SCI) in 2017.

For the past nine years, China has been the world’s second largest producer of scientific papers after the United States, which published more than 524,000 papers in 2017.

This reflects the Nature Index rankings, which places China below the US in terms of high-quality research output. Between March 2018 and February 2019, China published 15,320 papers in the 82 journals tracked by the Nature Index, and the US published 27,472.

But by the end of 2017, only 173 Chinese journals have been indexed by SCI, of the roughly 3,800 total. Just 46 of them entered the first quartile for their disciplines, according to impact factor.

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