Academic elected into US science academy

Updated: 2013-05-03 00:56

By ZHAO YINAN (China Daily)

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The recent election of a Chinese scientist to a leading US academy after being shunned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences has sparked debate.

Shi Yigong, professor and dean of Tsinghua University's School of Life Sciences, is the youngest of 21 foreign associates selected by the National Academy of Sciences, based in the United States.

His election was in recognition of his "distinguished and continuing achievements in original research", according to the academy's website on Tuesday.

Shi was also previously granted foreign honorary membership by another leading academy in the US - the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The 46-year-old scientist, who left the US and joined Tsinghua in 2008, failed to be enrolled by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011. Shi did not even make the 51-name shortlist from 314 membership candidates.

The rejection could be related to his explicit criticism of China's research culture and its rampant distribution of research funds, Beijing News reported on Wednesday.

In a paper published in 2010, Shi and co-author Rao Yi, professor and dean of Peking University's School of Life Sciences, argued that although government research funds in China have been growing at an annual rate of more than 20 percent, problems in research funding have slowed down the country's potential pace of innovation.

China Daily had received no reply to interview requests sent to Shi, the CAS, the NAS and the AAAS as of press time on Thursday.

However, according to a statement provided by the NAS to Beijing News, the academy declined to comment on Shi's loss in the membership election in China by saying that question should be referred to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The statement said the NAS will be able to provide a citation for Shi's election as a foreign associate only by next year's annual meeting, which usually falls in April, when all the new members who were elected this year are formally inducted into the academy.

"As a widely accepted mark of excellence in science, the membership is achieved by election," the statement said. "Although many names are suggested informally, only academy members may submit formal nominations.

"Consideration of a candidate begins with his or her nomination, followed by an extensive and careful vetting process that results in a final ballot at the academy's annual meeting in April each year."

According to the rules for electing members to the CAS, candidates who do not work in China for a long time should consider their "contribution to Chinese society, the economy and the development of science".

Shi said he returned to China not for a membership at the CAS, but to educate people, Beijing News reported.

Cheng Yingqi contributed to this story.