China legislates to tolerate scientific failures

Updated: 2007-08-28 09:08

BEIJING - Chinese lawmakers are legislating for the first time to allow scientists to report failures during the process of innovation without blotting their records in future funding applications.

They say they want to lift some of the pressure on scientists to report successes to create a better environment for making innovations.

Legislators are discussing a draft amendment to the Law on Science and Technology Progress that states: "Scientists and technicians, who have initiated research with a high risk of failure will still have their expenses covered if they can provide evidence that they have tried their best when they failed to achieve their goals."

Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang, explaining the draft to lawmakers, told lawmakers that scientific and technological development depends on innovation, and innovation requires a relaxed academic atmosphere enabling scientists and technicians to take scientific risks.

The high pressure has been blamed for contributing to the rampant academic frauds in China, scientists say.

Xu Jialu, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said on Monday that when a project failed, the technicians were always under heavy pressure. They might be afraid that their reputations would be affected and it would be harder to apply for research funds.

"I suggest an additional clause in the draft bill saying that failure in research and innovation will not affect the personnel's ability to continue to apply for research funds," said Xu.

Chen Nanxian, member of the NPC Standing Committee, said experiences drawn from failures were themselves valuable, and the draft should include a clause reading, "Scientists and technicians are encouraged to shoulder the responsibility of failure and summarize experiences from the failure."

President Hu Jintao outlined major strategic tasks for building an innovation-oriented country in January.

He said innovation-oriented laws, regulations and scientific and technological development plans should be improved, to create "a favorable mechanism" for innovation.

Before the law revisions were begun, entrepreneurs and scientists were suggesting a more relaxed academic environment was required to encourage independent innovation.

Bai Chunli, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said there was an atmosphere of fear of failure in the scientific fields, which was harmful for innovation.

"It's difficult to make achievements in independent innovation if the scientific research departments and scientists don't tolerate failures," Bai said.

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