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Research evaluation challenged

By ZOU SHUO | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-25 08:46
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Ministries tell universities they depend too much on Science Citation Index

Universities in China have been asked to stop their over-dependence on the Science Citation Index while evaluating the scientific research of teachers and students, aiming to reverse the "one-sided, excessive and distorted" reliance on SCI papers, authorities said.

SCI, one of the world's most selective citation databases for scientific literature, has become one of the core criteria in awarding professional titles and evaluating teachers, students, disciplines, resource allocation and university rankings, according to a guideline issued by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology on Sunday.

Universities have paid too much attention to SCI, and some have made having a high number of SCI papers their top priority, the guideline said.

A sound assessment system should be developed in which different weights are placed on the evaluation of various types of scientific research work, it said.

SCI-related indexes, including citations, impact factors and rankings among the Essential Science Indicators database should not be used in ranking schools or disciplines, awarding professional titles, hiring teachers, evaluating teacher's performance and resource allocation, the guideline said.

Universities are encouraged not to list publishing SCI papers as a requirement for students to earn degrees, it said.

An official with the education ministry's Department of Science and Technology said SCI is only an index system of academic papers, not an evaluation system, which means SCI papers do not equal high-quality papers.

The number of SCI citations reflects the popularity of the papers and academic research hot spots, but not their innovation level or actual contributions, the official said, adding that SCI paper indexes cannot be used in evaluating technological innovation and research application.

However, the official also noted that the guideline is not a denial of SCI, nor a refusal of published papers. The ministry has always encouraged researchers to publish high-quality and innovative Chinese research papers among international academia, the official said.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said universities have long been using SCI paper indexes as one of the most important criteria to evaluate the research capabilities of students, teachers and researchers, which has led to an excessive pursuit of papers being published in SCI journals and has resulted in other talents and contributions from researchers being overlooked.

"Moreover, some universities only focus on the number of SCI papers and neglect the quality and actual scientific value of the papers, leading to plagiarism, fabrication and even sales of papers," Xiong said.

Cheng Xiao, a PhD candidate at a Guangdong university, said the university currently requires doctoral students to publish at least two SCI papers to obtain their doctorates.

"Getting rid of the requirement of SCI papers would be a big relief, but without another credible evaluation method, there might be more 'backdoor channels' or 'pulling strings' for future promotion opportunities," said Cheng.

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