Scientists welcome Premier's words

By Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-05-30 07:07
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BEIJING - Premier Wen Jiabao said on Saturday that China must develop its abilities in science and technology and build up a large pool of talented individuals if the country is to take the initiative in international competition.

He made the remarks while addressing a plenary session of the National Congress of the China Association for Science and Technology on Saturday.

Wen said the nation should work hard on creating an environment in which scientists can become bold and innovative and one that will also encourage freedom and democracy in academic issues.

The association is the country's largest non-governmental organization for people involved in the fields of science and technology.

The conference, which ran from Friday to Monday, offered an opportunity for the review of the association's work during the previous five years and a chance to plan its efforts during the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015).

"China cannot develop without developing science and technology," Wen stressed. "Our future relies on the future of science and technology."

According to the latest report from the Royal Society, the UK's national science academy, China has replaced the UK in second place, behind the United States, in terms of its share of the world's scientific research papers written in English. China may pass the US by 2013.

However, statistics released by the Ministry of Science and Technology also showed that the number of academic papers from Chinese teams, while increasing four-fold between 2000 and 2010, contain little by way of original research and influential work. The ministry said a vast gap still exists between the general level of China's basic research and that of developed countries.

"China has tens of thousands of scientific researchers, so we do not lack capable people, but what we need is free competition and tolerance in the research environment," said Jiang Gaoming, chief researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He explained that Chinese scientists are under pressure to produce new scientific achievements every year in order to get funding from research institutions. Postgraduate students are also pushed hard to publish papers before they can get their degrees. Many put a great deal of emphasis on getting work published, instead of ensuring that work is important and worthwhile.

"Scientific exploration itself means doing something that no one has ever succeeded in doing before, which contains the risk of failure. For example, the airplane has been improved many times since it was first built by Orville and Wilbur Wright, but every attempt was not necessarily successful," Jiang said.

"Since the country's assessment system allows no room for failure in scientific exploration, researchers became too impatient." Jiang said Wen's statement calls for people to be allowed to make mistakes, something that is a great encouragement for researchers.

In the speech, Premier Wen emphasized that China should reform its systems of management, decision-making, appraisal and personnel in the fields of science and technology, so as to modernize the system in a way that works within the country's socialist market economy.

Academician Liu Jie, who is vice-president of the association, said an innovative research environment requires reforms in the grading method of scientific achievements and the reward system.

"When I was in college I spent at least two weeks each semester in factories taking part in the production process, so I have been capable of welding, assembling the lathes and fixing the appliances ever since I was a freshman," he told Xinhua News Agency on Sunday.

But Liu said he is worried that some today only care about writing academic papers and obtaining a degree and are neglecting simple, practical skills.

"The tendency even appears in primary and secondary schools, where students focus on the college entrance exam to the exclusion of other things," he said.

Xinhua contributed to this story