LIUZHOU, China — When professors in China need to author research papers to get promoted, many turn to people like Lu Keqian.
Working on his laptop in a cramped spare bedroom, the former schoolteacher ghostwrites for professors, students, government offices — anyone willing to pay his fee, typically about $45.
“My opinion is that writing papers for someone else is not wrong,’’ he said. “There will always be a time when one needs help from others. Even our great leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping needed help writing.’’
Ghostwriting, plagiarizing, or faking results is so rampant in Chinese academia that some experts worry that it could hinder China’s efforts to become a leader in science.
The communist government views science as critical to China’s modernization, and there have been calls for government spending on science and technology to grow by 8 percent to $24 billion this year.
State-run media recently exulted over reports that China publishes more papers in international journals than any country except the United States. But not all the research stands up to scrutiny. In December, a British journal retracted 70 papers from a Chinese university, all by the same two lead scientists, saying the work had been fabricated.
“Academic fraud, misconduct, and ethical violations are very common in China,’’ said professor Rao Yi, dean of the life sciences school at Peking University. “It is a big problem.’’
Critics blame weak penalties and a system that bases faculty promotions and bonuses on the number, rather than quality, of papers published.
Dan Ben-Canaan is familiar with plagiarism. The Israeli professor has been teaching for nine years at Heilongjiang University in the northeastern city of Harbin. A colleague approached him in 2008 for a paper he wrote about the kidnapping and killing of a Jewish musician in Harbin in 1933 during the Japanese occupation.
“He had the audacity to present it as his own paper at a conference that I organized,’’ Ben-Canaan said. “Without any shame!’’
In another case, he gave material he had written to a researcher at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He said he was shocked to receive a book by the academic that was mostly a copy and translation of the material Ben-Canaan had provided, without any attribution.
The pressure to publish has created a ghostwriting boom. More than $145 million was spent on academic papers in China last year, up fivefold from 2007, a study by Wuhan University professor Shen Yang showed.
One company providing such a service is Lu’s, in Liuzhou, a southern industrial city. His Lu Ke Academic Center boasts a network of 20 to 30 graduate students and professors whose specialties range from computer technology to military affairs.
Even in the business of selling research papers, there are cheats. Among the papers bought and sold in 2007, more than 70 percent were plagiarized, the Wuhan study found.