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Service Sectors > Preclinical

Weekly comment

Chinese scientists given freedom to fail

By Mike Nagle , 30-Aug-2007

As part of a drive towards greater innovation, the Chinese government looks set to introduce new laws giving its domestic scientists freedom to tackle complex scientific problems without fear of failure, according to a state media report this week.

A report in Xinhua said that legislators are discussing a draft amendment to the Law on Science and Technology Process that would allow researchers to report failures, and the experience gained from them, without fearing it will impact future funding applications.

 

 

 

The new addition states: "Scientists and technicians, who have initiated research with a high risk of failure will still have their expenses covered if they can provide evidence that they have tried their best when they failed to achieve their goals."

 

 

Research, especially within the pharmaceutical industry, is as dependant on failure as it is on success. Far more potential drugs fail than succeed and for each one that is left by the wayside, lessons can be learned to improve the chances of another molecule making it to market.

 

 

 

However, there is currently a great deal of pressure on Chinese scientists to only report successes and the science and technology minister, Wan Gang, is said to have told lawmakers that this is hampering innovation by preventing researchers taking risks.

 

 

 

"It's difficult to make achievements in independent innovation if the scientific research departments and scientists don't tolerate failure," Bai Chunli, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was quoted as saying.

 

 

 

There have also been several cases where scientists have falsified or stolen results - something academics blame on the highly pressurised research environment.

 

 

 

For example, the dean at Shanghai Jiaotong University, Chen Jin, was fired last year after it emerged he had falsely claimed to have invented a new computer chip. In a statement at the time, the university said Chen had faked results on the Hanxin digital signal processing chip, and used a product from a foreign firm to win funding.

 

 

 

Some believe the amendment doesn't go far enough, however. Xu Jialu, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee highlighted scientists fear that failure could blight their reputation and prevent them securing more funding in the future.

 

 

"I suggest an additional clause in the draft bill saying that failure in research and innovation will not affect the personnel's ability to continue to apply for research funds," he is reported to have said.

 

 

 

Zhou Houjian, the chairman of electric appliance company Hisense, told Xinhua that the draft law could speed up scientific advances in the country as tolerance of failure "encourages more challenging research projects."

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