Few countries are immune to high-profile frauds, but in China, fakery in education, scientific research and other areas has been taken to a level

China and Scientific Scandals

Jack Dini imageBy —— Bio and ArchivesJune 27, 2018

From Canada Free Press

China and Scientific Scandals
China has more laboratory scientists than any other country, outspends the entire European Union on research and development, and produces more scientific articles than any other nation except the United States. But in its rush to dominance, China has stood out in another, less boastful way. (1)

A recent string of high-profile scandals over questionable or discredited research has driven home the point for China that to become a scientific superpower, it must first overcome a festering problem of scientific fraud.

In April 2017, a scientific journal retracted 107 biology research papers, the vast majority of them written by Chinese authors after evidence emerged that they had faked glowing reviews of their articles. Then, in the summer of 2017, a Chinese gene scientist who had won celebrity status for breakthroughs once trumpeted as Nobel Prize worthy was forced to retract his research when other scientists failed to replicate his results. (1)

Another survey reports that 4 in 10 biomedical papers out of China are tainted by misconduct. (2)

This is not just a recent occurrence: in 2010 The New York Times reported that China’s stated goal of becoming a ‘research superpower’ could be held back by one big problem—fraud is pervasive in education and scientific research as state universities pressure academics to rack up credentials and raise the nation’s image. They reported that a third of the 6,000 scientists polled said they had plagiarized or fabricated data. (3)

The Times added, “The problem is not confined to the realm of science. In fact many educators say the culture of cheating takes root in high school, where the competition for slots in the country’s best colleges is unrelenting and high marks on standardized tests are the most important criterion for admission.”

Comparisons: China versus the United States

Expenditures- China spends $300 billion on public education. Next to defense, it is the biggest category of government investment. Families contribute an additional $180 billion in private expenditure. In the United States, with one-fourth as many students, spending totals $980 billion, or twice as much as China. (4)

Engineers- The United States remains more engineer intensive with almost double engineering degrees per million citizens. Also, there is the issue of quality. Companies are skeptical of the standard graduates coming out of China’s universities. The World Economic Forum estimates that immediately ‘employable’ engineers account for 81 percent of US graduates, compared with only 10 percent for Chinese graduates. (4)

Elite Institutions- In this category, China is far behind the United States. The US educational, institutional capability, and faculties remain the envy of the world. Recently, the US had 31 institutions in the top one hundred, far more than any other country. China had six, and they were far back in the pack. The United States had 5 in the top 10, the United Kingdom had 4 in the top 10 and the other country in the top ten was Switzerland with one. China had six in the top 100 and they were ranked 25, 38, 40, 62, 87 and 97. (5)

Another, though imperfect measure of scientific output is the h-index, a numerical value that reflects not only the quantity of articles published, but also the number of times they were cited by researchers. By this measure, China is not in the global top 10. Instead it ranked at number 18. The top six from number 1 to 6 are: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada and Japan. (6)


For all the hype around rising Chinese prowess in innovation, with burgeoning billions diverted to R & D, the world’s largest workforce, and a rising number of patent applications, there is a lot less than meets the eye. Much of the work force remains hamstrung by a tradition of rote learning, and most of the patents filed only in China’s patent office, represent trivial changes to existing designs or attempts to claim credit for foreign ideas in a system that does not recognize overseas patents.

Gupta and Wang argue that the relevant metric is the number of ideas recognized in the three premier patent offices: the United States Europe and Japan. China gets roughly one idea through this triple screen for every thirty that get through from the United States, Europe and Japan. (7)


Few countries are immune to high-profile frauds, but in China, fakery in education, scientific research and other areas has been taken to a level that has many folks concerned that this could make it harder for the country to climb the next rungs on the scientific and economic ladders.


  1. Amy Qin, “Fraud scandals sap China’s dream of becoming a science superpower,” The New York Times, October 13, 2017
  2. Mark Zastrow, “Four in ten biomedical papers out of China are tainted by misconduct, says new survey,” Retraction Watch, May 18, 2017
  3. Andrew Jacobs, “Rampant fraud threat to China’s brisk accent,” The New York Times, October 6, 2010
  4. Michael Silverstein et al., The $10 Trillion Prize, (Boston Massachusetts, Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)
  5. “QS World University Rankings 2018”
  6. “H-index for countries: for science publications,” ecnmag.com, May 17, 2011
  7. Anil K.Gupta and Haiyan Wang, “China as an innovation center? Not so fast,” Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2011