China responds to science scandals

Bruce Einhorn

This week two of China’s top science agencies have announced new strategies to crack down on fraud. This is in response to a series of scandals that hit China last year. In the academic world there was the sacking of a top semiconductor engineer for allegedly faking a chip design and allegations of wrongdoing at other schools. (See this BW story that I wrote at the time.) The news from China’s pharma industry was far worse, with widespread reports of deaths caused by fraudulent drugs. (For instance, see here and here.)

The scandals were especially embarrassing for China’s leaders, given the many public calls by President Hu Jintao and others that China needs to become a world leader in innovation. Hence the surprising amount of attention the cases received in the Chinese press. Now the press is highlighting the steps that officials are taking to prevent new scandals. According to a Xinhua report in the People’s Daily,the China Academy of Science revealed a series of new measures on Monday. The regulations “define scientific misconduct, detail punishment and establish a science ethics committee to supervise scientific researches to deal with misconduct", Xinhua reports. "Strict regulations and rules will be conducive to build a harmonious scientific academy. The most important thing is for researchers to be self-disciplined," said Lu Yongxiang, president of the CAS. A day later, this Xinhua report in the same newspaper detailed the ways the State Food and Drug Administration “will tighten the inspection of pharmaceutical products to prevent drug safety accidents.”

The Xinhua reports are short on specifics, though, and that’s a problem. No doubt the vast majority of China’s scientists are honest and upright. But the reputation of the country’s scientific community took a huge hit from last year’s scandals. Undoing the damage will require more than new promises by bureaucrats that now they are finally serious about paying attention.

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