Updated: 2008-03-10 06:49
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member Lai Ming did not sound like he was raising a new topic when he talked on Saturday about our utilitarian scientists.
We have heard plenty about rampant and escalating utilitarianism in the country's science and technology circles, from various other sources in the past. But the same old warning sounded more worrisome when it came from this particular person. Lai was speaking on behalf of his party. He is a vice-chairman of the Jiu San Society, one of China's non-Communist parties, and chief of the Ministry of Construction's Department of Science and Technology.
Utilitarian tendencies are more and more distinct in scientific research, he cautioned at a CPPCC panel discussion. Such a conclusion would not have upset us so much had it been from any other individual. Lai is the one overseeing scientific and technological affairs in his ministry. The Jiu San Society's members are advanced and intermediate-level intellectuals. They know best how scientific and technological achievements are evaluated in this country.
We share his claim that over-emphasis on prizes received and the number of theses published has led scientific research astray toward immediate acknowledgement, distracting intellectuals from original academic work, and even resulting in counterfeiting.
The country has too many unfulfilled dreams waiting for breakthroughs in applied science technologies. This prepares for a hotbed of a universal anxiety for quick returns. But our ill-conceived criteria for assessment make things even worse.
The sensible mechanisms and standards for appraisal of scientific and technological talents the Jiu San Society calls for are imperative needs to address. Many in the science and technology circles have complained about the ridiculous yet very real reality that such evaluations are too vulnerable to non-academic factors. One of the most pressing imperatives, we believe, is to let science and technology be science and technology.
Lai, in the name of his party, put forward a number of suggestions for change.
All of which are to the point. But what impressed us the most was the proposal to encourage debate so as to promote sensible decision-making. This was actually the most concise statement throughout Lai's speech, a short sentence about which he did not even elaborate. But it reminds us of a fatal hole in our system.
Although we all seem to accept that truth develops through debate of different views, there is a bewildering dislike, if not fear, of disagreements. The absence of a wholesome culture of academic criticism is a lamentable defect we cannot afford to ignore.
(China Daily 03/10/2008 page4)