The publisher of the Journal of Vibration and Control recently withdrew 60 papers by Chen Chen-yuan (陳震遠), also known as Peter Chen, who allegedly promoted publication of the papers based on fake peer reviews. The case has become a world-class scandal due to massive international media coverage, seriously hurting Taiwan’s reputation.
Surprisingly, former minister of education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) was also enmeshed in the scandal, as he was listed as coauthor on five of the papers.
Chiang responded to questions by saying that he was unaware of the listings and that he did not maintain a relationship with Chen. This did not conform with the usual academic practice. How could he possibly be unaware that he was listed as coauthor, especially as the papers were included on his publication list — or was he unaware of that too?
He also said that he did not know Chen, but the Liberty Times (sister paper of the Taipei Times) reported recently that they had cooperated for more than a decade and jointly published several other papers between 2002 and 2010; Chiang’s denial was clearly groundless.
Since the issue is closely related to academic ethics and the reputation of the nation’s academic environment as a whole, the government must handle it seriously and provide an explanation.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) has ordered the Ministry of Science and Technology to investigate the case, but the University Act (大學法) says that the Ministry of Education, not the science ministry, is the authority over universities.
The education ministry, then, must take on its responsibility and carry the initiative to investigate the issue by contacting the editor-in-chief of SAGE Publications to clarify why each of the 60 papers were withdrawn. This must be followed with appropriate decisions fully in line with academic ethics.
If Chen and Chiang are innocent, their names must be cleared.
The scandal has forced academia to face another big problem: the distorted university evaluation-and-reward mechanism. Directed by the disciplines of natural science, technology and economics, the government has used the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Science Citation Index (SCI) and Engineering Index (EI) as key publication indices for evaluation in recent years. In other words, an academic’s contribution is measured by the number of publications in SSCI, SCI or EI journals and scores.
These figures are crucial to the evaluation, reward and promotion of academics, not to mention that both the education and science ministries’ university evaluations and resource distribution are based mainly on these figures.
All schools strive to be listed among the so-called “top universities” so they can obtain more funds from the government. Accordingly, they push teachers to publish papers in relevant journals.
Since the number of publications in certain journals is prioritized, academics become paper-producing machines, while overlooking the importance of teaching and school services. Some make inquiries about the preferences of editors-in-chief of such journals and curry favor with them, while others ask which journals are likely to accept their papers more easily, cutting a thesis into several papers while listing each other as coauthors. They care only about the quantity of their research, not the quality.
Even worse, this practice distorts Taiwan’s knowledge system, as quantitative research in science and technology and disciplines in which it is easier to produce a paper become mainstream and obtain a large amount of resources. On the contrary, qualitative research in sociology and the humanities is marginalized and barely survives at the university level, because mass production of papers in such disciplines is impossible.
However, the essence of the nation’s social problems remains unchanged, despite the distorted university evaluation-and-reward mechanism. Social problems with Taiwanese characteristics are surely related to the people and history of this land. Unfortunately, the knowledge system created by our universities is not used to resolve most of these problems; it is used to produce papers for publication in SSCI, SCI or EI journals.
The result is that the nation’s universities and society are slipping further apart. As for academics, they are isolated in their ivory tower — and often mocked for being unrealistic.
Although the alleged peer-review fraud is an individual case, it has great significance for the system as a whole.
Hopefully, the government will face the problem head on. Apart from handling this individual case properly, it must recognize the value of academic disciplines outside the mainstream and promptly remedy the biased university evaluation-and-reward mechanism.
Then, academics will no longer be taken in by the illusory importance of quantity or cause more world-class scandals that run counter to academic ethics.