March 13, 2008 / 6:43 AM / in 10 years

China reassures scientists not to fear failure

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will tolerate experiment failures by its scientists to ease pressure, encourage innovation and cut the chances of fraud, a top official said on Thursday.

Worried about being left behind in global technological advances, China has launched a campaign to pour more resources into scientific research to boost “home-grown innovation”.

Several high-profile cases of cheating in state-paid research programs have shocked the country in recent years, tarnishing the image of a sector already plagued by scandals of plagiarism and corruption.

Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang blamed the fraud cases partly on mounting pressure to succeed in a “high-risk” area that cannot guarantee 100 percent positive results.

“If you press every project to succeed, it will inevitably lead to fabrication (of results),” Wan told a news conference on the sidelines of parliament, currently meeting in Beijing.

“In many cases, the experience from failures in scientific exploration is more precious than that from successes,” said Wan, who became China’s first non-communist cabinet minister in more than three decades last year.

Wan cited the Law on Science and Technology Progress that was revised in December to allow scientists to report failures freely without losing face or affecting future funding. The amended law will take effect in July.

While likening the new tolerance to “dredging a channel”, Wan said it was also necessary to “build a dam” by beefing up preventive measures against academic fraud.

Wan said many lessons had been learnt from fraud cases. Last year, 13 academics were blacklisted for falsifying scientific data, fabricating applications and plagiarism.

In 2006, Chen Jin, a U.S.-educated dean at Shanghai’s elite Jiaotong University, was sacked for falsely claiming to have invented a new type of computer chip.

The chip was hailed by the government and media as a technological breakthrough before the scandal broke.

China spent 1.49 percent of its GDP on research and development in 2007, a higher rate than in previous years, but its top-down management of academic institutions and scientists is faulted by many for exerting too much administrative control and discouraging originality.

Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani

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