Sat, Aug 27, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Scientists, beware the name game

By Liaw Yun-Fan 廖運範

A strange incident occurred recently when the Taiwanese author of a research paper that was co-written with a researcher from China was forced to identify his university as being in “Taiwan, China.” According to a report published in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on Aug. 16, neurobiologist Chiang Ann-shyn (江安世) of National Tsing Hua University had rejected the name change.

The report also quoted National Science Council Deputy Minister Chen Cheng-hong (陳正宏) as saying that the second author of the article, neurobiologist Rao Yi (饒毅) of Peking University, demanded that “Taiwan” be changed into “Taiwan, China” without first getting permission from the Taiwanese author.

This is ridiculous, even if the second author also happened to be the corresponding author. Furthermore, scientists normally do not bring political issues into scientific publications and it raises the question whether Chinese politicians were involved in having Taiwan’s independence attacked in a scientific journal.

I have been editor or associate editor for several international biomedical journals. I am currently an associate editor of a highly prestigious journal and I have also led multinational multi-center studies, and therefore have in-depth knowledge of how academia works.

To use the example of a paper from a multinational study, of which I am the corresponding author, when that paper is finished, I will send it to the other authors for their comments or corrections and also ask them to provide the names of their academic institutes, the cities where their schools are and the name of the country. Once a paper is finalized, it is sent back to all authors for final approval before submission to a journal by the corresponding author.

During the review process, only the content of the research paper is reviewed, with the corresponding author in charge of ensuring that the other authors’ personal information is correct. The editor will not doubt this information or demand that any changes be made. From this, we can see that the name of an author’s academic institute and nation is a decision entirely under their own purview.

There are three situations when problems could arise with the name of the author’s country. The first is when the accepted paper is sent to the printers for layout and the people there change things without prior permission, for example, assuming it is right to change the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China. This sort of thing can be corrected during the proofreading stage. I encountered such an issue in 1982; however, after this, “Taiwan” was always used and no more trouble was ever had in this regard.

Second is when a corresponding author changes the name of the country just before a paper is submitted. This is an obvious violation and is an issue that concerns the ethics of the corresponding author. In this case, the corresponding author is also responsible for proofreading, thus there is no way of going back and changing things. If such a situation is encountered even once, the Taiwanese scientist should never cooperate with the person in question again.

To be clear, such things only ever happen in China and when a Taiwanese scientist has no choice but to cooperate with a Chinese scientist, all they can do is to write the conditions down clearly beforehand as a way of notifying the Chinese scientist. In this way, there is at least one piece of evidence that can be used to demand that the journal correct the error.

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