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Tsinghua University dean vies again for CAS membership

By Cheng Yingqi | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2013-05-21 20:18

Shi Yigong, professor and dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Life Sciences, has entered the public spotlight as he gains more academic honors.

Two years after failing to win election to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the top academic honor in China, he was elected on April 30 as one of the 21 foreign associates of the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Both events triggered debate over the voting system of CAS membership.

Now Shi has been nominated again for membership of the CAS. The CAS elects new members every two years, with no more than 60 winners.

The nomination started on Jan 1, and the CAS published the 391 nominee list on its website on May 15. Shi’s name was among the 88 nominees who specialize in life sciences and medicine, competing for no more than 12 memberships.

Shi, the 46-year-old scientist, left the US and joined Tsinghua in 2008.

Earlier reports said Shi failed to win the last CAS membership election because in a Science magazine editorial in 2010, he criticized China’s research culture and the rampant distribution of research funds.

The editorial, titled “China’s Research Culture,” was co-written by Rao Yi, professor and dean of Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, who also failed in the last CAS election and was not nominated this year.

However, Meng Anming and Zhu Zuoyan, both CAS members, said Shi’s and Rao’s failure in 2011 were not because of their criticism, but because of their citizenship issues.

“Although they were applying to give up US citizenship, the procedures were not complete during the last election,” China Youth Daily quoted Meng as saying.

The CAS has specification rules for citizenship of its membership.

Also, the criteria include a scientist’s contribution to Chinese society, economy and sci-tech advancement, apart from his or her academic level.

“If we grant the top academic honor to people who made their major contributions outside China, everybody would rush abroad, where the research culture is better,” said a scientist who did not want to be named. “If and when they return to China and receive the top honor, that is improper.”

The CAS nor Tsinghua University responded to China Daily’s requests for comments.

However, in written material the CAS released as a response of Shi being elected foreign associates of the National Academy of Sciences of the US, it says that the CAS and the NAS are two independent academic organizations with their own procedure and criteria for membership, and there is no necessary correlation between CAS members and NAS associates.

Zhou Zhonghe, a leading paleontologist, was elected as a NAS associate in April 2010, and he became a CAS member 20 months later in December 2011.

But former health minister Chen Zhu, CAS President Bai Chunli and crop genetics expert Zhang Qifa all became NAS associates after being elected CAS members.

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