China sets up rules to combat scientific misconduct

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China has drawn up a set of rules to tackle scientific misconduct among scientists working on state-funded science programmes.

The regulations announced yesterday (9 November) by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) will take effect from 1 January 2007, when a special office to deal with cases of misconduct will open at the ministry.

The decision follows a number of high-profile cases of suspected scientific misbehaviour in China earlier this year.

These prompted Chinese scientists to write a letter to officials urging them to set up a formal process to deal with allegations of scientific misconduct (see China ‘must act on rising claims of scientific fraud’).

The new rules will punish the acts of submitting false resumes; plagiarising scientific achievements; fabricating or falsifying scientific data; violating regulations governing clinical trials; and breaching laboratory animal protection rules.

Punishment for these offences will range from issuing warnings, surrendering project funding and suspending research projects, to demotion and expulsion from research institutions.

Violators will also be banned from applying for national science projects. The ban will last “between one year and forever” depending on the gravity of the misconduct, said Shang Yong, vice minister of science and technology.

“The heaviest punishment will be disqualification from state science projects for life,” Mei Yonghong, director of the policy and regulation department of MOST, told SciDev.Net.

Reports of misconduct will be registered at the new office and investigated by a team composed of experts in law, ethics and in the relevant scientific area.

Team members will be checked to ensure they have no personal links with suspected researchers, and the investigation will remain confidential until a confirmed result is reached.

Any violation of the new rules will be transferred to court.

In March, Liu Hui of Tsinghua University was dismissed as professor and assistant to the director of the university’s medical school for faking his academic achievements and work experience (see Chinese professor accused of lying on CV gets fired).

And in May, Chen Jin, then a dean at Shanghai Jiaotong University, was fired for faking research on the State-funded Hanxin computer chip. He is banned from applying for national projects in the future.

These and other scandals have prompted a long and heated debate both at home and abroad about academic moral in China’s scientific community.

The government is planning to set up a national committee to promote scientific moral, which would consist of national and international experts and serve as a consultancy organisation, says Mei.

“We are working on this together with the Ministry of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Engineering and the China Association of Science and Technology,” he said, adding that he hopes it will be established next year.

MOST has reformed its application and appraisal procedures for state-funded programmes for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10). It has also expanded its database of experts and tightened supervision of fund usage.