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Should Universities Count Papers Widely Circulated Online as Published?

Some are praising a university for counting WeChat reads as a measure of being published as it opens a new channel for academic evaluation

By Xu Mouquan Updated Sept.21

According to a new rule introduced by Zhejiang University (ZJU), one of China’s top universities, an academic paper that is released via the WeChat public account of central media outlet such as the People’s Daily and subsequently read over 100,000 times will count as having been published by a core journal. A wide debate on the issue is unfolding in China, with some praising it as, among other things, a new channel for academic evaluation. 
Interviews by news portal cnr.cn with ZJU students found that younger students think the approach is an innovation that adapts to their habit of reading on a smartphone, and more importantly, it pulls academic research off its pedestal and connects it with ordinary people. Whereas graduate students consider it biased, since the repost numbers and read counts can be faked, and it would lead some to put greater energy into working on making “hit” papers for new media, and reduce academic efforts, reported cnr.cn. 
Given that Chinese academic professional titles are mostly determined based on the number of papers published, a new standard that objectively evaluates the research and teaching levels of teachers is badly needed. So some argued that ZJU’s new rule represents one such standard, the news portal reported. But wide online transmission doesn’t necessarily equate to high academic value, because even with an eye-catching title an academic paper might not be as valuable as expected, according to cnr.cn.   

One widely-held opinion is that scholars should engage more in public affairs and the spreading of public knowledge. “Traditionally, a paper would only be read by people in the same field… If a paper can be written in a popular way that doesn’t dent its quality, the author’s value is underlined, while creating value for the whole society,” said Gao Wei, a history teacher at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, as cited by the portal.  

However, a gmw.cn commentary argued that academic research should only follow academic standards. They should not be measured by how popular they are.