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[BEIJING] In a move to curb corruption and increase transparency in the evaluation of prizes for academic achievement, China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has revised its regulations for its national science and technology awards.

According to Hu Xiaojun of MOST's National Science and Technology Award Office, who led the drafting of the new rules, they will open up the evaluation process to scrutiny, and increase the importance attached to originality in research.

MOST began enforcing the revised rules on 27 December, but they were not made public until 27 January.

China has been rewarding achievements in science and technology since 1999 with the National Science and Technology Award, the Science and Technology Progress Awards and the Natural Science Awards.

Winners of the top award — the National Science and Technology Award — each receive 5 million yuan (about US$600,000).

Hu says that although the award has raised the profile of Chinese scientists and helped motivate them, it has become clear in the past five years that the way winners are selected is flawed.

Problems include a lack of transparency, a lack of scientific basis, and sometimes even nepotism, Hu adds.

According to the revised rules, nominees' details — including descriptions of their research — will be published in academic journals or other media.

As well as clarifying who can qualify for the awards — by stating, for instance, that only completed studies and not interim results are acceptable — the new regulations cover requirements of those assessing nominees.

Award evaluators will no longer be able to vote anonymously. For each participating evaluator, MOST will record whether any of their decisions have been disputed, as well as details of any apparent improper conduct.

Anyone found to be behaving improperly in relation to the evaluation process, could be punished — most seriously, by being banned for life from joining similar evaluation panels.

The new rules also stipulate that individuals or institutes that think the award evaluation process is "unfair or problematic" will be able to appeal to an award supervision committee.

"If they do not offer necessary documents to prove their innocence in required time and place, they would be considered to be acknowledging the dissent," according to the new rule.

Besides clarifying the award evaluation process, the new rules also specify that winners of the highest awards in each category should have originality, be an important contribution to scientific progress or the national economy, and lead international research in their respective fields.