Getterslaben / MZ – Researchers improve science in publications published in renowned expert journals. Universities and research institutes around the world also benefit from this. Their reputation carries with them more scientific heavyweight research. However, Nicholas von Wiren, a professor at the Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gটারttersleben (Salzland District), noticed a tendency to adorn oneself with foreign feathers. MZ editor Walter Zoller spoke to an agricultural biologist about it. Saudi Arabia and China were also under scrutiny.
Mr. von Warren, this year and last year you were one of the world’s leading researchers whose scientific work was frequently quoted by colleagues. At the end of 2020, a colleague gave you an unusual offer in this regard.
Nicholas von Wiren: I got a call from a famous German scientist. He said he had the address of a second institute with a university in Saudi Arabia, which was also listed in his publication because he had collaborated with that institute on some issues. I caught my ear when my colleague said that the Saudi university was willing to transfer me 140,000 euros a year to a research account. I could hire two scientists with it.
“You buy yourself authorship like this.”
Nicholas of Wiren
And all this for free?
In return, I should have given the address of the Arab University for my scientific work on a specific subject. You buy yourself a writer like that. The publications were also submitted to a university in Saudi Arabia, although scientists did not conduct research there.
Did you trade?
Not especially since for 140,000 euros I should have put the address of the University of Saudi Arabia at the top of the list which measures and lists the international rankings of scientists and institutions. IPK will then only be listed in second place – and it is not actually considered in the rankings.
So researchers should not make such agreements?
I find it extremely unfair for our own organization and our society. After all, I’m researching German taxpayers’ money.
Why Saudi universities are decorated with foreign feathers?
He wants to rise in the international university rankings; This makes it more attractive for students from abroad. They want to explain: Look at the great research we are involved in.
Is the move of this university an isolated incident?
There are other peculiarities in China.
Do universities want to polish their image in this way?
The starting point is more complex. Over the years, China has become much stronger in science. I speak with utmost respect. There’s a lot of research going on now, there’s top-level research, almost all of the scientists have been abroad for years and are working with the same standards as us. The country therefore occupies a leading position in international science.
But apparently things are not going according to plan?
You should know that different universities and institutes are usually involved in research projects. Of course, all institutions are listed in the study. But where the project was conceived and where most of the work was done must have been named first. Ultimately, it also increases their importance. Now in a specific case: The young Chinese scientists in the IPK wrote what they had researched here before returning to China. Then, first, I was asked by e-mail to mention your new address in China in the publication.
Is such an approach unusual?
No, that’s right, after all the researcher needs his new institute to be easily accessible. But a little later, in order to be able to take the next career step at home, the new institute should also be mentioned first. And it no longer matches scientific practice.
How do you deal with such requests?
I’m stuck between two chairs: on the one hand, I want to support my former employees in their scientific careers. On the other hand, I am definitely committed to my own organization. Ultimately, the top spot will be awarded to an organization that has nothing to do with specific research results.
How do you respond to such requests from Chinese researchers?
Now I say while they are in IPK: I will not do anything like that.
Can this isolated case or a specific pattern be detected?
Young scientists are under tremendous pressure in China. Recently, a young scientist who is now his first professor in China, told me what university management expects from him in the first five years. One type of goal is to submit two publications, one with ten effect factors and two with six effect factors.
You need to explain in more detail.
The factor ultimately explains the significance of the discovery made by a researcher in a project. To achieve this, you need to provide excellent results in our research, including the effect factor of ten. We typically work on this type of research for four to five years. If there are two requirements with a factor of six, the pressure to succeed is extremely high.
So isn’t that really possible?
I will not say so. But young researchers who are struggling for their careers may be tempted to use all possible tools and then perhaps behave in a scientifically wrong way.
Can science work with stress at all?
Making pressure doesn’t really make sense. It is part of scientific research that no one can predict the desired result. In this case, performance-oriented guidelines are toxic for scientific integrity.
How can Chinese scientists get Gatersleben IP?
The usual way is that we advertise research positions and then receive applications from all over the world. China also offers scholarships for such positions, which is to be welcomed. IPK also benefits greatly from collaborating with foreign researchers, and this clearly applies to Chinese scientists as well. But there have also been recent burns.
What do you mean by that detail?
The China Scholarship Council, the organization that organizes academic exchanges in China, recently changed the text of scholarship applications in Germany. Among other things, doctoral students must submit a project outline. What is new is that at the end of the lesson, the outstanding role of the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping must also be clearly acknowledged and confirmed.
The main role of the Communist Party must also be ensured.
What is new is that the outstanding role of the Communist Party must now be confirmed at the end of the text. “
Nicholas of Wiren
Does the scholarship holder have to sign this?
What’s more: I, as a supervisor, should sign it now.
What if you don’t?
I’m in a dilemma. I am very interested in the good young scientists who come to us. If I do not sign, the application will be rejected. Of course, the Chinese can do whatever they want. However, to include this personal respect for the President in the petition in such a way that the hosts – that is, us – also have to sign it, is a new and problematic development from a scientific point of view. Thus the application of a scientific study is mixed with the political purpose.
Did you know that colleagues at other research institutes feel the same way?
All I can say about this is this: applications are based on a form that is not designed for IPK only.