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[BEIJING] Amidst rising calls to improve academic discipline, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has admitted its lowest number of new members since 2000 in its biennial elections.

The results of the CAS elections were revealed yesterday (27 December). Twenty-nine scientists out of 287 candidates were elected to the 'academician' member status — the highest scientific title in China.

Five scientists from the France, Russia and the United States were also elected as foreign academicians of CAS.

But the number of new members is the lowest in recent years. According to CAS election rules, no more than 60 new members can be admitted at a time. In 2001, 2003 and 2005, the elected numbers were 56, 58 and 51, respectively.

The fall comes amidst increasing claims that academicians are allocated too large a share of research resources, and that the criteria for academician selection are not stringent enough.

And although members have no formal power, they often advise on key funding decisions (see 'China's scientific elite too powerful')

New members are chosen by existing CAS members in their own disciplines, representing mathematics, physics, chemistry, life sciences, earth sciences and information sciences.

CAS revised its election rules in 2006: members must now be elected by two thirds of the existing members in their disciplines, rather than by half of them as previously stipulated.

Li Jinghai, vice-president of CAS, told a news conference that in this election CAS stuck to their strict and objective rules, as well as publicising the candidates’ background so that the voters could make a more informed decision.

But Fang Shimin, who operates the New Threads website against academic misconduct in China, says it is too early to say whether this tightening of procedures played a major role in making the selection process more rigorous.

Fang says the reduced number of new members could reflect a lack of high-calibre scientists eligible for membership. He told SciDev.Net that two-year elections were too frequent and suggested they should be further apart to allow time for higher quality candidates to emerge.