Strong academic opposition has led China's ministry of education to suspend a policy that would effectively control where Chinese researchers should publish their work. In my view, this scientifically disruptive intervention should never be reactivated.
The policy, launched by the ministry's Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Center (CDGDC) in April this year and repealed two weeks later, centred on an 'A-list' of top Chinese and international journals. The position of a journal in the list is determined by impact factor, years after the global movement away from its well-documented deficiencies as a tool for research assessment (see www.ascb.org/dora). Entries also depend on inclusion in national databases, such as the Chinese Science Citation Database and the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index. This could open the door to corruption as Chinese universities that publish journals vie for database entries.
China's Discipline Ranking (CDR) system intends to use the list to assess a university's performance by the number of its academics that publish in these journals. Rewards to scientists publishing in the 'top' journals might include payments and questionable promotions, for example, weakening the already distorted evaluation system and impeding the development of science in China.
I suggest that the CDGDC needs to be more service-minded, recognizing that this contentious policy falls outside its authority. Making evaluation systems that are politically independent, non-profit and professional would help to break the CDGDC and CDR monopoly. Universities, too, should rethink the merit of political ranking lists.