Honest research needed

Updated: 2011-09-17 08:07

(China Daily)

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None of the scientific research works shortlisted for the 2011 National Natural Science Awards has qualified for the top prize. This has happened for the eighth time since the awards were introduced in 2000.

It is heartening to know that the panel members are very strict with their appraisals. But the decision should be reason enough for most Chinese scientists to feel embarrassed.

Given the fact that the money the State allocates for scientific research has increased by more than 20 percent a year over the past decade, there is enough reason to ask what is wrong with most Chinese scientists and the research mechanism.

An investigation by the Chinese Association of Scientists has revealed that only about 40 percent of the funds allocated for scientific research is used on the projects they are meant for. The rest is usually spent on things that have nothing to do with research. Some research project leaders use the money to buy furniture, home appliances and, hold your breath, even apartments.

In the most appalling scandal, an accountant in the National Science Foundation of China misappropriated more than 200 million yuan ($3.12 million) in eight years until he was arrested in 2004.

Besides, the degree of earnestness most scientists show in their research projects nowadays is questionable. Engaging in scientific research projects funded by the State has turned out to be an opportunity for some scientists to make money. There are examples of some scientists getting research funds because of their connections with officials rather than their innovation capacity.

Qian Xuesen, known as the father of China's atomic bomb and satellites, used to say during the last few years before his death in 2009 that the biggest problem is that Chinese universities cannot cultivate top-class scientists.

The reason why some professors and scientists indulge in plagiarism and academic hoax is that an increasing number of scholars and scientists have forgotten that perseverance and lack of interest in material benefits are the basic qualities needed for research.

To answer Qian's question and ensure that there are enough research works to qualify for the top national science award, the government should develop institutions of higher learning that will provide the environment to cultivate the spirit of dedication to science.

Also, a mechanism and a supervision system are needed to ensure that honest and dedicated scientists get government support for research and research funds are used on projects they are allocated for.

Only when research projects cease to be a goldmine from which pseudo-scientists can mint money, can real scientists get the chance of dedicating themselves to true research, achieve breakthroughs and increase the country's innovation capacity.

(China Daily 09/17/2011 page5)