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If China is to improve the quality of its scientific research, it must take concrete steps to overcome entrenched 'cultural obstacles' — such as isolation and self-sufficiency — which are hindering its progress, argues Peng Gong in Nature.

Although misconduct hampers the quality of much scientific research in the country, philosophies passed down through generations can also explain poor performance. These have "discouraged curiosity, commercialisation and technology", says Gong.  

One of the consequences is the desire of Chinese scientists to pursue leading research, rather than play a supporting role. This results in redundancy and a reluctance to share data. For example, the China Meterological Administration (CMA) has 2,000 weather stations and the Bureau of Hydrology has 20,000 gauge stations, which could improve CMA forecasts — but it does not make the data unavailable.

Another consequence is a lack of effective division of work. There are very few specialised research services in the country because research administrators reward only original research, which discourages scientists from taking on supporting roles.

Assigning specialised jobs is one of the steps that can be taken to overcome these obstacles, says Gong. "Positions must be created for chemical analysts, computer engineers, experimentalists, instrumentation staff and specialized data providers".

Gong also suggests that China must instil a "scientific spirit" early in its education system, not just in universities as it has done in recent years.

And the country must do more to encourage international collaboration in scientific research by providing financial support. A recent US$7 million government-funded mapping project ruled out foreign collaborators — an example of practices that can hinder progress.

Collaborations must be encouraged by individual scientists as well as organisations, says Gong, and those that prove successful must be rewarded with grants and promotions.

Link to full article in Nature


Nature doi:10.1038/481411a (2012)