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UPDATED: July 3, 2014 NO. 27 JULY 3, 2014
Rewriting the Rules
China’s most influential scientific and technological think tanks are rethinking their admissions process
By Yin Pumin

But Chu admitted that becoming an academician did have certain benefits for his scientific work. "My supervisor valued my words more and my projects and my laboratory got approval for projects more easily because I was an academician," he said.

Exit channels

In November last year, 80-year-old CAE member Shen Guofang applied for retirement from his research position at Beijing Forestry University, but his application was turned down.

Although there is a mandatory retirement age for almost everyone else in China, one does not exist for academicians.

"No government document has specified when academicians should retire, and no employer wants their academicians to retire either," Shen said.

Implementing an academician retirement and exit system was included in the reform plan adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee.

Official statistics show that most of the 1,545 CAS and CAE members are between 70 and 89 years old. In spite of this, academicians on the whole still seem to lead active careers. According to an article that appeared in May 2012 in Study Times, a newspaper published by the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, 783 academicians of the CAE held a total of 5,610 part-time positions, averaging out at 7.2 positions per person.

Wang Xuan (1937-2006), a late academician of both the CAS and CAE, once said that he was no longer creative after the age of 55, and this holds true for many academicians.

Implementing an academician retirement and exit system will encourage academicians to contribute to the progress of science rather than resting on their past laurels, said Ouyang Zhongcan, a CAS academician.

"Academician is only a title, but that title lasts a lifetime. The retirement of the academicians we are talking about now is for them to leave their current professional positions and duties," said 81-year-old Qin Boyi, a senior academician of the CAE.

Qin, a pharmacologist studying neurological medicine and industrial toxicology at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing, was elected an academician of the CAE in 1994 at the age of 62. In 2005, he retired from academic research after a one-year wait. Since then, he has pursued his personal interests such as traveling.

Today, Qin is a senior academician, a title that the CAE gives to its academicians above 80 years old. According to the charters of the CAS and the CAE, a senior academician cannot hold an academic leadership position, and cannot recommend or elect new academicians, but still has other rights and duties relating to the title of academician and still can attend meetings.

Qin said that the right time to retire would better be decided by academicians themselves. He said that Isaac Newton no longer did research after a certain age, whereas Madame Curie conducted research until the last minute of her life.

Wang Mengshu with Beijing Jiaotong University also believes that retirement system is not appropriate for academicians. "Retirement rules should be applicable only to actual posts," he said.

However, the issue of retirement for academicians still seems far from a solution. The amended charters of the CAS and the CAE this year mention only "advised resignation" but not "retirement."

The new charters stipulate that should any academician violate scientific ethics, lack personal integrity, or tarnish the reputation of academics or the academies, they will be "advised to resign."

However, it is hard to implement such a rule in reality.

In January, national broadcaster CCTV reported that Wang Zhengmin, a CAS academician and a professor at the Eye and ENT Hospital of Shanghai-based Fudan University, purchased an Australian-made artificial cochlea—a spiral tube that resides the inner ear and is essential to hearing—and copied the technology for a product produced in China.

Four of the six academicians who recommended Wang Zhengmin as a candidate for academician status in 2005 wrote a letter in October 2013, stating that they believed he should be disqualified.

Despite this, Wang Zhengmin has retained his academician title while the Academic Committee of Fudan University is reportedly conducting an investigation into his papers and the artificial-cochlea products he was involved in.

"If an academician has done something wrong, he or she should be punished or have his or her title revoked," said Yuan Yaxiang, a member of the CAS dealing in applied mathematics.

Wang Yue, a CAS academician and an expert in telecommunications, also pointed out that disqualifying academicians with ethical problems is necessary to protect the reputation of the group.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) was established on November 1, 1949, in Beijing. Since 1956, it has participated in the preparation of all national scientific and technological development plans, serving as a national think tank. The incumbent CAS president is Bai Chunli. There are 124 institutions directly under the CAS as of the end of 2012. The academy is also home to more than 85 percent of China's large-scale science facilities. Now the CAS has 743 Chinese and 71 foreign academicians.

The Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), established in 1994, is the most prestigious and informative advisory institution in China's engineering science and technology, conducting strategic studies of the state's important engineering-related issues and providing consultation for decision-making. The incumbent CAE president is Zhou Ji. The CAE currently has 802 Chinese and 42 foreign academicians.

(Source: Xinhua)

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