China’s SCI paper-selling agencies mimic legitimate services that help scientists struggling with English. In the 1990s, as science took off in Japan, editing outfits emerged to help polish English writing. Today, scientific language editing is a profitable sector, with established companies like American Journal Experts, Edanz, Editage, and Enago serving the global market. Besides editing, such companies offer additional services at various stages of the publication process, from suggesting appropriate journals to helping craft a cover letter. Some also edit for content and provide translation services.
For the most part, journals recognize that they benefit by receiving more polished manuscripts. Some publishers now recommend specific editing companies, and the companies offer a discount to those journals’ contributors in return.
The paper-selling agencies flourish in the aura of these reputable businesses. A Baidu search for “SCI paper editing” brings up Editage and Enago—beneath a banner ad for MicroSCI, a company that goes a step further by gathering data and writing papers for scientists, according to a representative. For some scientists, it may be difficult to tell the difference. Many paper-selling agencies contacted by Science appear professional and well-staffed. Several have registered with China’s Industrial and Commercial Bureau. To assure clients that all of their information will be kept confidential, the agencies prepare contracts emblazoned with government-issued seals.
But any similarities to mainstream editing companies end there. MicroSCI sells its services on Taobao.com, the Chinese answer to eBay, and it is one of several agencies that guarantee a client’s paper will be published, according to a sales agent. Guaranteeing publication is an alarm bell, says Benjamin Shaw, chief operating officer for Edanz in Beijing: “It makes me uncomfortable that some companies offer this. We always take care to educate authors that we can only guarantee language quality and that journal editors make the final publication decision.” (MicroSCI did not respond to repeated interview requests.) The fees charged by SCI paper-selling companies raise eyebrows as well. Edanz charges $325 on average for language editing. Compare that with the $26,200 an agent with the outfit Ketong Editing and Translation says it charges for authorship on a paper targeted at a high-impact Western journal.