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New platform for scientific research
By Fu Jing & Cui Ning (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-21 23:51

A new platform may help deal with chronic duplication and lack of funding in scientific research in China.

The aim of the new system is to meet the country's science, technology and social progress development demands by 2010.

The Ministry of Science and Technology released national guidelines to give scientists across the country better research conditions and allow them to share research resources, Vice-Minister of Science and Technology Liu Yanhua said Wednesday at a news conference in Beijing.

The government's focus in the near future will be building a legislative framework to encourage sharing data and resources..

Sixteen cabinet departments have already created an inter-ministerial meeting system to build an innovative basic research platform. Twenty-three senior scientists are working as advisers.

Liu said the idea is to address major problems facing China's basic science research.

"We have made some progress in this field, but some problems are still bottlenecking our innovation," said Liu.

Over the last two decades China did not have a national blueprint of basic research leading to duplicated projects, he said.

At the same time, government funding is far from enough.

"So it is difficult for Chinese scientists to make breakthroughs in some key technologies in the previous years," said Liu.

Liu Chuang, a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said she has high hopes for the new platform.

"Previously, scientific documents were separated from each other among research institutes. It was very difficult to search for specific data. Scientists had to pay to use data owned by other institutes, and it was impossible for us to buy data because our research funds were very limited," she said.

"Now scientists can freely share data thanks to governmental support."

The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak last year and bird flu this year were catalysts for the programme, said Liu. The outbreaks sent out a clear warning that more emphasis should be put on scientific innovation.

Sources from the Ministry of Education said China's scientific brain drain can be partly attributed to the country's poor basic research conditions.

The State's long-term scientific plan (2005-20) is expected to be put together later this year and the ministry will start to draft the national scientific plan for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) period, Liu said.

"All this work will heavily rely on whether we have an effective basic research platform," said Liu.

The idea for the platform is not entirely new. China partly started the project a couple of years ago.

In 2002, the government launched the Scientific Data Sharing Programme, part of the National Facility Information Infrastructure, aiming to maximize the efficiency of the country's investment in science and technology.

Vice-minister of science and technology Cheng Jinpei said sharing data is vital to sharpen the competitiveness of Chinese researchers and scientists.

Science and technology development has been hindered by inefficient data sharing and duplication of theoretical research.

"We are still inefficient in using such data," Cheng said.

China has built up vast reservoirs of scientific data, most of which is kept on shelves or in archives.

Meanwhile, barriers against sharing remain between different organizations, institutes and research fields.

"Some basic data is just exclusively owned by a single institute and exchange is scarce between research organizations," said Cheng.

Liu Yanhua said the one task of basic research platform is to facilitate data sharing.

With a meteorological research team taking the lead, the data sharing platform is gradually being built around areas such as mapping, geology, agriculture and sustainable development.

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