Unnecessary row over HPV research

Updated: 2013-09-23 11:00

(China Daily)

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Some people have misunderstood Peking University's request for female virgins' blood for a research project on human papilloma virus (HPV). Their reaction shows that the authorities have not taken enough measures to popularize the importance of scientific research, says an article on people.com.cn. Excerpts:

Peking University has explained that HPV is usually transmitted through sexual contact and female virgins' blood serves as a negative control substance in the research on the disease, because the risk of contracting HPV is low among women who have never had sex. Expressing surprise at the public reaction, a university spokesperson said that too much attention was being paid to terms like "virgin" and "sex", instead of what the research is aimed at.

Indeed, critics of the project seem obsessed with the request for blood samples of female virgins between the age of 18 and 24 years, rather than trying to know why the blood samples were needed.

But the question is: Why did a scientific research in line with international practice evoke such a public reaction? The necessity of a scientific project should be determined by scientists, not the pubic or officials. But in China, academic evaluations sometimes depend on administrative judgments and public opinions, causing unnecessary confusion, which is detrimental to science.

The Internet has complicated the problem further with non-professionals and laymen joining the public debate on the HPV research project as if it were a social issue.

It's time the authorities took measures to streamline the debate on scientific research and popularize science. They should work out ways to explain some basic scientific concepts to the people to avoid a public row over a scientific research project.