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Cash bonuses for peer-reviewed papers go global

China is well known for the generous bonuses it pays scientists who land a peer-reviewed publication in a prestigious research journal. But scientists in many countries are reaping similar bounties.

After spotting a discussion on a scholarship listserv about the topic, we dug further to find official documents on such payments from institutions named in the thread. Searching the internet using key terms such as “publishing cash incentives” and “schemes cash publishing” widened our net. We relied mostly on online documents in English, so we surely missed some policies. The numbers in the graphic below represent the maximum amounts we uncovered at a particular institution in a specific country.

Even under those constraints, we documented publishing incentives from all corners of the globe, including at a number of U.S. institutions. Awards are primarily cash; some are as small as the $10 that Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, bestows on authors when their papers are cited in the literature. Some institutions designate payments for faculty members, whereas others reward student authors.

Scientists at Chinese institutions stand to make a small fortune if a paper they write appears in journals with high citation impacts. A recent analysis posted to arXiv showed that, on average, Chinese universities offer first authors more than $43,000 for publishing a paper in Science or Nature, with the top reward for such a paper reaching a knee-wobbling $165,000. In most cases in China, cash incentives are paid to the first author.

Publish and prosper

Authors who publish peer-reviewed papers in top-flight journals can receive hefty cash payments, depending on where they live. An informal survey—by no means comprehensive—turned up lucrative incentives paid by institutions or government agencies around the globe.

Credits: (Graphic) G. Grullón/Science; (Data) Gathered by Retraction Watch

Running a distant second behind China are two Gulf states, but even still scientists there can expect a big payday when they publish. For example, at Qatar University in Doha, authors share up to $13,700 for a paper in Nature or Science, with most of the money going to the first author. The university even antes up for run-of-the-mill papers: Publishing in certain journals with an impact factor below one fetches an $820 prize for the authors.

Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University in Atlanta who has studied how incentives affect publishing, says she was “somewhat surprised” to see cash incentives for publishing expand to Western countries. At the Miller College of Business in Muncie, Indiana, for instance, anyone who publishes a peer-reviewed article in a list of more than 100 business journals earns $2000, which they can redeem as cash, or use to pay for academic activities such as society memberships or as a kind of credit to reduce their teaching load. The institution has placed no limit on the number of such awards an author can receive.

“People respond to incentives,” says Stephan, “and institutions are terribly driven by bibliometric measures right now.” Institutions everywhere are looking at the impact factors and citation data of their faculty and its output, she says. But incentives can backfire by putting a strain on journals. In a 2011 Science paper, Stephan and colleagues found that cash incentives increase submission rates to Science, but not acceptance rates. “When you get an enormous cash incentive for a very small subset of journals, it’s inefficient for the system.” (One of her co-authors received a $3500 bonus for the paper, which he donated to charity.)

On a positive note, publication incentives can spark collaborations, Stephan says. A physicist she knows who publishes frequently in Science and Nature is now getting many requests to collaborate on papers from researchers in China. “In many ways, that can be beneficial,” Stephan says. “At least, it encourages them to reach out.”

This story was produced under a collaboration between Science and Retraction Watch.

*Correction, 11 August, 9:19 a.m.: Due to a production error, the original graphic mistakenly listed Griffith University with the China entry.