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[BEIJING] The privileges enjoyed by the members of China's scientific academies should be abolished, as they discourage innovation and encourage poor scientific practices, say two senior scientists.

"In most Western countries, 'academician' is just an honorary title, but in China, academicians have been promoted to an extremely high status and have too many privileges and powers," said Yu-Chi Ho of Harvard University, United States.

Ho, who is a foreign academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), made his comments in a letter in the 6 February edition of Beijing's Science Times newspaper.

He referred to reports that some academicians have been bribed by scientists wishing to be nominated as new members.

Apart from paying academicians a monthly allowance of about 1,000 yuan (US$124), CAS and the Chinese Academy of Engineering do not stipulate any additional benefits.

But local governments, universities and research institutes often treat academicians as senior officials, giving them high salaries and power over how funding is distributed.

Wu Mengchao, a Shanghai-based CAS academician and the latest winner of China's top national science prize, joined in the criticism of the academy system in an interview in the same edition of Science Times.

According to Wu, many scientists appointed as academicians stop taking their research seriously and start making irresponsible comments on topics beyond their field of expertise.

"[The appointment] should reflect one's real academic capacity and should not bring a tremendous change to life," said Wu.

Ho and Wu are the latest scientists to say the academician system risks curbing Chinese innovation.

In December 2005, a group of elder academicians, including former CAS presidents, criticised the way younger academicians no longer concentrate on research.

Shi Shuo, a CAS press officer, told SciDev.Net that there is no plan to reform the academician system, but seminars will be held later this year to discuss it.

The Chinese Academy of Engineering has 704 academicians, while CAS has 713, including 44 foreign academicians.