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What a bargain!
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Et tu FDA?
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Are you married to your reagents?
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Common Sense Tip #1
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Student Worker - More Student or More Worker?
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ASA-CSSA-SSSA Early Career Program
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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No Fleas Please
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What if I were not a microbiologist ...
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Monday, October 4, 2010

Chinese plagiarism and the death of English-language journals
Friday, October 1, 2010

Allow Me a Formal Introduction
Friday, October 1, 2010
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Thomas Joseph

It's a Micro World after all is a blog dedicated to discussing pretty much whatever I feel like. When I delve into scientific matters it will primarily be discussing microbiology (agricultural, bioenergy, and environmental focus). Otherwise, I'll probably ramble on about sports and life.

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Awesome Stuff
Friday, October 1, 2010

I blogged yesterday about a story I read in Biotechniques about the prevalence of plagiarism in Chinese journals. Here is the body of that entry reproduced here.

Begin blog entry ...

There have been several discussions on plagiarism lately on the intertubez (note to self: compile list), so when the following article was sent to my email this afternoon (via Biotechniques) I took note.

Over 31% of submissions to the National Natural Science Foundation of China English-language publications show signs of copying, self-plagiarism, or copyright infringement, according to Helen Zhang, journal director at the Zhejiang University Press in China.

Almost a third?!?

In an article published earlier this year in Learned Publishing, Zhang and her colleagues analyzed manuscripts submitted to the three journals between October 2008 and May 2009. They discovered evidence of plagiarism in 151 out of 622 papers, or about 22.8% of submissions during that seven-month period. In a recent opinion piece published in Nature, Zhang reports that continued data collection analysis shows that the problem is only escalating as the percentage of plagiarized submissions has increased to 31%.

So why all of this plagiarism? The authors of the study claim that it "is a result of the academic world’s emphasis on publishing quantity over quality". I've frequently referred to it as the LPU (least publishable unit) but it seems that some researchers are taking it even further than that.

... end blog entry.

I received a comment by someone named James on that entry that really deserved, IMO, a platform to be discussed. Here is the comment:

This isn't just in China-- there's a decent amount of plagiarism in the US and British journals too. Probably not quite this high, but a problem nonetheless.

The other factor here is that the report cited plagiarism in the English-language journals by the Chinese researchers, so a lot of this is probably just the language barrier. Chinese scientists for obvious reasons would struggle to write in a language so confusing (esp. in its spelling, pronunciation, and grammar) as English, not to mention so radically different from their native Chinese. I had Chinese colleagues who worked for more than 20 years in the USA, and even they had trouble publishing in scientific English-- it's just too complicated a language for them to communicate in, so plagiarism of other English-language articles is the inevitable result.

It's just not realistic to expect China to commit the massive resources it would take to get its millions of scientists utterly fluent in English-language publishing. And with the US and British economic decline, there's just not enough funding to help Chinese researchers learn English while working here anymore, so most Chinese researchers will increasingly be working either domestically or in other research centers (like Germany or Korea). China would probably be better off using those resources to fund new laboratories (and domestic journals) rather than spend it on diminishing returns improving their English. This will be even more so as China grows more confident and economically powerful, especially as the country arrives at #1 world economy status-- there's no way the country would waste its resources on forcing its researchers to publish mainly English-language articles. As Chinese (as well as German) gain more international prestige, it will be more natural to publish in those languages.

I know there has been quite a bit of discussion on plagiarism in the blogosphere lately, so that really isn't anything new. However, what is interesting and hasn't (to my knowledge) been discussed is the idea that China will pull its resources away from publishing in English-language journals.

Is this something to be concerned about? Could it happen anytime soon? If so, what would the impact be? How will it affect science performed in English speaking languages? How much longer can we consider ourselves to be the leaders in scientific progress and expect the world to conform to our publishing conventions?

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Interesting indeed, I often wonder when we will all have to learn and be proficient in brand new foreign languages. As it is, clearly it would benefit everyone if they could speak to others in their native tongue. It's hard enough to get your point across even when talking to people who do speak your language. I think it is time the US as a nation puts some effort into learning to communicate with others. Europeans typically speak 2-3 languages fluently, at least.

As far as other nations taking over as sci leaders.. well.. it all comes down to money.. sooo.. I suppose restoring economic stability would be a good step to take..

Prabodh Kandala
Texas Tech University Health Science Center
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Considering that English is Universal Language or at least as a language to communicate in most parts of the world, I support publishing in English. Having said this, it would be good if Chinese research centers recruit some English Science writers to help them. Or Journals office should hire some Chinese to English translators to convert those articles into English. No offense though.

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I agree with the part of non using resources in publishing in English. We will probably need to read in Chinese/other languages before the end of the next century.

But that has nothing to do with the plagiarism issue. That one is a voluntary decision that is taken by somebody that clearly understands english (they read the original article). In this day and age...No excuses.


Thomas Joseph
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Evie, I concur about the US lagging in the ability to speak a foreign language. If there was one class I did poorly in in HS, it was Spanish. I was able to avoid it in college, but I'm actually making up for it now. We do a lot of work in Central and South America, so I'm trying to play catch-up and have the Rosetta Stone "Latin American Spanish" on my IDP. If/when I have children, learning a foreign language will be on the list of things they start at an early age.


Prabodh, I doubt the journals will pay for translators ... the costs would just be too much. I sat in on a meeting of the editors of SSSAJ (Soil Science Society of America Journal) at last years triparental meeting, and while they pride themselves in a giving very good peer-reviews (and I can attest they do), the one thing they said they refused to do was cater to poorly written manuscripts (which primarily result from poor grasp of the English language). For them it all boiled down to cost, and I can't say I blame them. If a researcher wants their manuscript to hit a top tier journal, they should invest the ducats to ensure its written properly, so I'm entirely with you.


yannis, yeah ... I linked the two issues because of a comment made on my other blog about the plagiarism issue, that was the only connection.  As for learning Chinese, at least that gives me 89+ years to do so!  This world is going to look way different to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren than it does to us.

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Just want to point out- being 'leaders in scientific progress' and 'expecting the world to conform to our publishing conventions' are separate issues. The US and the UK did pretty well in science throughout the 20th century- even when significant amounts of scientific publishing was occurring in German or Russian. People just learned more languages.

When I was in undergrad, I knew I had a foreign language requirement to 'get out of the way' (as I saw it). I could have easily have taken Spanish, or perhaps even French, but those are pretty irrelevant in terms of the scientific literature these days. My degree program requirements (probably written decades ago) "strongly recommended" German or Russian. After checking with my academic advisor, I settled on Chinese. It was the correct choice for the future of science, it just wasn't a very good one to achieve reasonable competency in.

The reason the solution to 'just learn the other language' didn't work out so well for me with Chinese might not just have been me being a dunce (I basically remember "Ni hao" / "zai jian";  "qing"/ "xiexie" and "Wo you yi ge wenti" and "Wo bu zhi dao"). It's a hard language barrier to cross in either direction; the grammars are extremely different (and English grammar was obviously decided by several drunken committees who hated each other; and Chinese tones cannot really be properly heard by Western ears- there may even be brain structural differences underlying this depending on how you were raised).

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