Recently, a report from the National Natural Science Foundation of China found that 52 papers had problems in 2022, such as ghostwriting, plagiarism, and data falsification.

The notable point is that many cases involve top universities such as Peking University, Fudan University, Nankai University, and Shanghai Jiaotong University. 

The issue of fraud in research papers in China has fallen under the spotlight of various international groups.

In May, Retractionwatch.com said that the Association for Computing Machinery had taken down 323 Chinese papers from its database. The data were allegedly generated by computers or were made up.

In March, Nature’s academic journal said it had taken down 370 Chinese papers since January 2020. Yet, in October 2021, Nature reported that the number rose to 665, rising nearly double in just seven months.

Along with it, fraud had also become “industrialized.”

CCTV’s reporters did investigate China’s paper counterfeiting industry in 2016. They came to work at the branch of Guangzhou Famous Craftsman Culture Communication Co., Ltd., based in Zhongshan City, Guangdong province, through an application. 

This firm’s service made title dissertations, master’s, and even doctoral dissertations.

This company has five core departments: the bidding department, planning department, Consulting department, Finance department, and creative department.

After all, paper counterfeiting is illegal, so how do they attract customers? They can advertise online.

To allow customers to find themselves better, these paper counterfeiting companies had the most fierce competition for keywords such as “paper publishing” or “journal publishing.”

When the firm had a new customer, the consulting department was responsible for receiving and understanding what kind of paper the buyer needed and which academic journal he wanted to publish.

The reporter got the company’s 2015 year-end summary during the undercover period. It is shown that the company completed nearly 5,000 orders in 2015. And in January 2016 alone, the firm had completed almost 1,400 orders.

Manager Zheng at the firm introduced that the paper counterfeiting industry was rising rapidly, and it was not uncommon for salesmen to receive dozens of orders in a day.

Indeed, a salesman received a large order for 35 papers at a time. According to the agreement, these papers would be published in eight academic journals designated by the customer within the following three months.

After the buyer selects the topic, it turns to the task of the creative department. A 5,000-word title thesis could be submitted in just one day. How can they deliver the papers so fast?

Manager Zheng said that they would copy papers from around the world.

So, how did the articles copied by these paper counterfeiting firms pass the re-examination and detection?

These articles copied would be rewritten, such as word order adjustment and synonym replacement from other papers worldwide.

For example, the reporter got a doctoral thesis writing contract recently signed by the company. The contract belonged to a Ph.D. student from a university in Northeast China.

The full text of this thesis was 120,000 words, with the price being 70,000 yuan or around $9,500. The reporter learned through the interview that the Ph.D. was satisfied with the thesis.

During the investigation, the reporter also found that there are not a few companies that falsify such papers. The Guangzhou firm was just a tiny company. Many large companies were expanding their business rapidly. It means they would actively find customers.

For example, Jiupin Culture Communication Co., Ltd., located in the center of Chengdu City, claims that its main business was journal publishing services. The reporter also entered the company through an application.

This company has an entire four-story office area and more than 500 employees. The vast majority of the more than 500 people in the company were salesmen who developed customers online.

These salesmen would count the customer registration forms for several batches of transactions. There were 2,000 to 3,000 pieces of customer information in each registration form. The customer’s school, department, and thesis purpose would be marked in each transaction information. At that time, there was a customer list involving students from more than 500 colleges.

In addition, the reporter also got 11 follow-up forms for the master’s thesis progress. The progress for the paper buyer was marked in the schedule. The reporter preliminarily counted about 300 master’s theses involved in these 11 schedules. It means at least 300 graduate students studying for master’s degrees have already paid for their theses to obtain their degrees. 

CCTV’s reporters said they saw only a firm’s business situation in less than half a year. It was only the tip of the iceberg for the vast business volume of the entire industry.

The question is, why is the need for fake documents in China so big?

The first reason is China has a large number of graduates every year.

According to data from the magazine Statista, around eight million students graduated from undergraduate programs in China’s public in 2020. Among them, about 4.2 million earned a bachelor’s degree. On a graduate and postgraduate level, approximately 729,000 master’s and doctor’s degrees. It was nearly double the number of degrees earned at all higher education levels in the United States.

The second reason is the promotion process in related Chinese government agencies.

For example, physicians in China have become a target market for fake-making paper firms because they typically need to publish research articles to gain promotions.

As Nature reported, in August 2020, the Beijing municipal health authority published a policy stipulating detail for physician’s promotions. Accordingly, the title of a chief physician is required to have at least three published papers. And an attending physician wanting to be promoted to deputy chief physician. He must have at least two articles published in professional journals. 

And these titles will affect a physician’s salary and authority. Besides, it also determines the surgeries they are allowed to perform. 

Doctors are so busy at hospitals that they may not have time to do scientific research, so looking to fake papers-making services is the most convenient measure.

Regarding the harmful effects of fake papers, Changqing Li, a former senior physician and gastroenterology researcher at a Chinese hospital, said, “The literature environment published in Chinese is already ruined, since hardly anyone believes them or references studies from them.” “Now this plague has eroded into the international medical journals.” 

Futao Huang, a Chinese researcher at Hiroshima University in Japan, points out that the issue of faking research papers also affects China’s global reputation.

An editorial published in February 2021 in Molecular Therapy called these China’s faking papers junk science. It said, “The increasing volume of this ‘junk science’ is wreaking havoc on the credibility of the research emanating out of China and increasingly casting doubt upon legitimate science from the region.” 

Frank Redegeld, editor-in-chief of the European Journal of Pharmacology, published by Elsevier, agreed with the above ideas. He said, “They are undermining our confidence in the other manuscripts received from Chinese groups.”

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