Academia should keep away from all distractions

Updated: 2015-08-03 08:05

(China Daily)

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Academia should not seek out power and power should keep away from academia.

This may sound strange to those who do not realize to what extent academia has been infiltrated by power and how much academia has been contaminated by commerce.

But it is something that needs to be addressed if we care about the progress of science and technology.

The 157 candidates vying for the 65 places this year in the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been selected under new rules that were introduced in 2014, with a view to building a firewall between academia and the power of officialdom.

The rules stipulate that only members of CAS and other academic associations can recommend candidates. Previously all institutions and work units could nominate candidates. This means government officials are not in the position to be nominated as candidates. The members of CAS then choose the new members by casting votes.

The erosion of the academia by administrative power has long been a notable part of public discourse. The scandals concerning a high-ranking official in the former ministry of railways who tried in vain to bribe his way into the club and a CAS academician who was found to have committed plagiarism in his dissertations, not only smeared mud on other academicians, they also revealed systematic loopholes in the election of experts to the elite club.

What is even more ridiculous is the fact that quite a number of ranking officials, even some ministers, used to be among the nominated candidates for the Chinese Academy of Engineering and CAS. Such a mentality means some officials believe that they can get whatever they want, even academic titles, although they have not made any contributions entitling them to such an honor.

Their involvement in fields they are not supposed to step in has watered down the authority of academicians and spoiled the academic environment.

With many academicians abusing their status to promote commercial activities or products, the public's trust in their independence of thought has been considerably compromised.

When academia is tarnished by its links with power and the corruption within, changing the way the members of the elite academic bodies are elected may block power outside them.

However, there is a lot more to do to clean up these academic bodies, so scientists and experts who have dedicated themselves to their careers may set good examples for the advancement of China's science and technology.