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[BEIJING] China will double its number of science communicators to four million by 2020, according to the Chinese Association for Science and Technology.

The association will train and support professional communicators to work in rural areas and museums. It also hopes to boost the number of advanced professionals in science writing; research and development; and science industry management, as outlined in the plan, '2010–2020 China's Popular Science Talent Plan'.

According to the association's press release, China believes there is a shortage of science communicators — or 'science popularisation professionals' — in the country, and especially in rural areas, where it plans to have 1.7 million.

"The four million number," said Yin Hao, vice minister of the association's science popularisation department, "will include 500,000 full-time and 3,500,000 part-time communicators, including 2,200,000 volunteers". But Yin gave no details about the overall funding and training channels for the increase.

The Chinese government officially announced the Medium and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020) in early June. Zhan Zhengmao, director of the China Institute of Science Communication, said: "Increasing the numbers of science popularisation professionals is one of the supporting measures of that plan".

"There has been a knowledge gap between people in urban and rural areas for a long time and it won't disappear quickly," Zhan said. "We will draw up a science popularisation talent project to serve the current demand in rural areas."

According to the association, the central government will invest 300 million yuan (around US$44 million) this year to reward excellent science communication groups and individuals in rural areas, and special attention will be given to those facilitating low-carbon agriculture and modern agricultural knowledge.

"A key change desperately needed in rural areas is to enhance agricultural technologies, which is placed in a prominent position by the Chinese government," Li Daguang, director of the Science Communication Centre at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told SciDev.Net.

But science communicators should have a clear practical impact in China to be effective, said Li.

"If knowledge disseminated by science communication experts is too abstract or useless in actual production, science communication will have no significant effect."

The plan was released in late July.