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[BEIJING] China's main funder of basic research has adopted its first constitution in an effort to make the way it operates more transparent and to promote good research practices among recipients of its grants.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) constitution, adopted on 16 March, states that the agency has a duty to support independent scientific exploration and innovative research, nurture young scientists and develop neglected areas of science.

Ji Chengyu, a senior researcher in the foundation's policy department, says the constitution draws on principles adopted by science foundations in developed countries. The NSFC used these principles as guidance on issues including leadership, funding and the conduct of researchers.

According to the document, applications for funding must first pass external peer review before being evaluated by the foundation.

To increase transparency, the foundation will make public both the amount of funding available and its evaluators' comments on projects seeking funding.

To discourage academic bias or nepotism in the way funds are distributed, the constitution states that members of the evaluation committee can hold this position for a maximum of four years.

Ji, who played a central role in drafting the constitution, told SciDev.Net that the foundation is also preparing a code of practice for researchers, with the aim of preventing plagiarism, protecting intellectual property rights and encouraging original research.

Duan Yibing, a senior researcher with the Institute of Science Policy, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says the constitution's main significance is that it emphasises that scientists should decide how research funding is spent without interference from the government.

Although the foundation was established in 1986 it was not until 2000, when it became fully independent from China's Ministry of Science and Technology, that work on constitution could begin.

In 2004, NSFC allocated three billion yuan (US$350 million) in funding to nearly 50,000 science programmes, a 25 per cent increase over the previous year. In 2005, its total funding is expected to exceed US$420 million.