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Leading Chinese scientists have urged China to cancel most of its scientific awards in an effort to encourage innovation and prevent academic corruption.

"No other country gives so many science prizes, so frequently," said Huang Shanglian, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. "Chinese scientists spend too much time and energy applying for them instead of doing research."

Huang was speaking in Beijing at the annual meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body, which ended on 13 March.

Since the 1980s, China's central and local governments, as well as other organisations, have set up hundreds of scientific awards to encourage innovation.

The government also uses the awards as one of the ways it evaluates the quality of research by scientific institutes and scientists.

Researchers are therefore under pressure to win awards, which can lead to more funding, an increase in salary, or promotion.

Some contenders, however, fake their research results, or hire public-relations specialists to lobby or even bribe judges, said Huang.

China's Ministry of Education has recently taken steps to crack down on such academic misconduct, announcing plans this month to set up a national committee to look into it. The ministry is also preparing guidelines to encourage universities to punish improper practices.

But Wang Chunlai, a deputy in the National People's Congress — China's top legislative body — says such measures are not effective enough.

At this month's annual congress meeting in Beijing, she proposed a new law to punish academic misconduct in the education, scientific research and publishing sectors.

"Academic corruption is more than an issue of a scientist's morals," said Wang. "It has damaged the reputation of science and wasted public funding."

Zhang Ze, vice-president of the Beijing Industrial University and member of the China Academy of Sciences, told the People's Daily website that there should be a national survey to identify which awards should be cancelled.

Zhang added that prizes issued by government ministries should be evaluated by professional societies, such as the Mathematics Society, to prevent bureaucratic interference.