“In February, China’s Ministries of Education and of Science and Technology released two documents that reshaped the research landscape: “Some Suggestions on Standardizing the Use of SCI Paper Indexes” and “Some Measures to Eliminate the Bad Orientation of ‘Papers Only’.” Elaborating the academic reform that President Xi has pursued since 2016, they provide the first detailed steps for dramatically reducing the role of the Science Citation Index (SCI) in evaluating Chinese research….
For twenty years, the SCI—a prestige listing of “high impact” scientific journals—controlled the careers of Chinese researchers. It and various derived indices are commonly used for university rankings and research evaluation (the UK, for example, uses SCI-derived data to allocate funding), but China relied on the SCI to an unusual degree. There, quotas for publishing in SCI journals governed hiring and advancement, pay bonuses, and even graduation from doctoral programs. In using the SCI as a “gold standard,” Chinese administrators sought to increase productivity, enhance national prestige, and benchmark the closure of gaps between China’s research sector and cutting-edge work internationally.
To a significant extent, these goals have been met. China has risen rapidly up international rankings, and Chinese research productivity routinely exceeds the world average (Li & Wang, 2019). Since 2016, China has been the world’s largest producer of published research, accounting for over a third of all global activity (Xie & Freeman, 2018, p. 2). …
So why change a winning formula? The Ministries’ announcements have focused on eliminating perverse incentives created by over-reliance on the SCI, which saw researchers prioritizing quantity over quality, nepotistically inflating citation counts, and falling prey to predatory journals. The Chinese government has, accordingly, allocated tens of millions of dollars to initiatives for improving Chinese journal quality and combating corrupt publishing practices. At the same time, commentators have noted the potential cost savings of de-centering SCI metrics….”