A major publisher of a scientific journal adds a strange note to each article. What is behind this?

As early as March 2017, this strange note first appeared at the end of an article in the magazine nature:

I looked at the paper and there were no cards in it. None of the authors had unusual connections, only normal university departments. Why disclaimer?

Before answering this question, let’s dig a little deeper. This announcement began to appear for the first time in mid-March 2017 (in this issue of nature) when attached to any research work in this issue. I can’t find any documents before with the Publisher’s Note.

Since then, nature put this notice on every document in all your journals. For example, in this issue there is a document for mapping the sound of the planet Mars, by an international team of astronomers and physicists. It contains maps, but they do not describe any characteristics of the Earth. However, in the end there is a disclaimer on “claims of jurisdiction in published maps”.

(Nature did the same with me, for example, in this 2018 article by my former doctoral student. I still didn’t know about the strange disclaimer when this document came out, and I didn’t understand it until later.)

It’s not easy nature, but apparently all of the many journals published by the Nature Publishing Group, which today number over 100 publications. I looked at a few randomly selected leaves Natural biotechnology and Gene therapy for canceras a test, and they all have exactly the same publisher’s note.

None of these documents, I must add, have any maps in them. I could not find anything strange in the institutional relations either.

nature is one of the oldest and most respected journals in all of science, dating back to 1869. Just a few years ago, in 2015, Nature’s publishing group merged with Springer, the world’s second-largest profit publishing house, and they changed its name on Springer Nature. We’ll see why this is appropriate in a minute.

I must also mention that the articles that appear in these magazines, especially nature themselves, are strictly peer-reviewed. Each card that appears is subjected to the same peer review. Reviewers also see all the institutional connections of the authors. The publisher usually has no say in this content: if it passes peer review, it is published.

And what happened? Springer Nature seems to have added this note due to pressure from the Chinese government. The Chinese government does not want any maps to show Taiwan and does not want any connections from scientists in Taiwan unless they show (incorrectly) that Taiwan is part of China.

I admit that I am speculating, but we have very clear evidence that SpringerNature has succumbed to Chinese demands on related issues. At the end of 2017 New York Times reported that Springer “succumbs to pressure from the Chinese government to block access to hundreds of articles on its Chinese website.” According to timesSpringer removed articles on topics the Chinese objected to, including Taiwan, Tibet, human rights and Chinese politics. A Springer spokesman at the time acknowledged that they had removed many articles, but said they had done so “to prevent a much greater impact on our clients and authors”. Their argument was that it would be better to provide at least some of their journals to Chinese scholars, even if others were censored.

Most recently, at the end of 2020, a Taiwanese doctor was told that he had to add “China” to his nationality, otherwise her article would be rejected by another magazine, Eye and sight, published by Springer Nature. Springer said at the time that he did not require authors to change their country of origin, but that Eye and sight was co-published by a Chinese university and therefore worked under different editorial rules. I looked up this doctor’s affiliation in other journals and saw that he was listed as the “Medical College of the National Taiwanese University, Taipei, Taiwan.”

So obviously Springer Nature has no problem modifying its publishing practices to meet the requirements of the Chinese Communist Party. However, what they have done in this case – with their publisher’s note – is to add a statement to the text of each paper published by their magazines, most of which have nothing to do with China.

Finally, I must add that no other publisher of a journal adds a publisher’s note like that to scholarly articles. So any claim by Springer Nature that they should do it is, frankly, nonsense. They don’t. They seem to have added the notice to reassure the Chinese government, and this is not the first time they have done so.

I don’t expect scientists to stop publishing nature or one of the more than 100 journals of Nature. However, I hope that others can speak and allow natureThe editors’ know that they will not accept this disclaimer to be added to their documents. I will certainly do so.

Oh, and one last thing: for all NIH-funded scientists, each article must be deposited in the Public Archive PubMedCentral, where all content is free and unlimited. PMC does not include this strange publisher’s note! Therefore, I strongly recommend everyone to use the link to PMC, not the link to nature website when you share your documents with others.

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