Selling Sciences: Challenges for Scientific Journals in China

1. A strange editors’ note

Springer Nature Editors’ note, March 2020:
We are aware that this story is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.

2. Attractions of the Chinese market

The editor is Nature publishing group who belonged to Holtzbrinck Publishing Group’s Macmillan Science and Education. In May 2015 Springer Science+Business Media and Macmillan Science and Education merged to form Springer Nature. Springer Nature posted revenues of €1.72 billion in 2019, and had around €3 billions debts. Two IPOs were planned to finance the debt, the first time in 2018, then again in 2020, but they were cancelled.

3. What are China aims?

Recent years saw China rise swiftly to become second in the world for research papers published in international journals, behind the United States. Ministries of education and science and technology, with the ministry of finance for the funding, have been pushing for international publications; International publications were also part of universities ranking, and scientists promotions and emulation.

4. Financial footprints

We have checked which scientific Open Access journals were subsidized by Chinese institutions in 2020 for:

  1. Springer Nature
  2. Elsevier (of the Lancet), and its Chinese JV KeAi.
  • secured international exposure to Chinese publications
  • access to part of the Chinese market and benefit of associated revenues to international publishers

5. Agreements with Chinese universities

All Chinese universities have dual governance: one from the central government and one from the communist party; it is noticed a recent intensification grip on politics and ideology (China’s higher education system — 70 years of evolution).

6. Way forward

It is China’s well understood interest to get recognition from the international scientific world, and it is in the interest of the rest of the world to share scientific research. However international journals should not feel intimidated in deciding what they should or should not publish. Political or financial pressure should never be part of the scientific publication exercise.

Annexes:

We have checked only open access journals that are subsidized by China. If we want to check the market share of Chinese journals for Springer Nature and Elsevier, we should check not only open access journals but also hybrid and fully paid ones.
Another worthwhile exercise would be to check the constitution of the editorial boards of these journals.

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Gilles Demaneuf

Gilles Demaneuf

Opinions, analyses and views expressed are purely mine and should not in any way be characterised as representing any institution.