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China Legislates to Tolerate Scientific Failures
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Lawmakers are legislating for the first time to allow scientists to report failures during the innovation process without blotting their records in future funding applications.

They say they want to lift some of the pressure on scientists to only report successes. They promote this in order to create a better environment that enhances innovations.

Legislators are discussing a draft amendment to the Law on Science and Technology Progress that 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 even though they failed to achieve their goals."

Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang, explaining the draft to lawmakers, told lawmakers that scientific and technological development depends on the creativity to innovate. Innovation requires a relaxed academic atmosphere that enables scientists and technicians to feel comfortable taking scientific risks.

High performance pressure has been blamed for contributing to the rampant academic frauds in China, scientists say.

Xu Jialu, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said on Monday that when a project failed, the technicians were always under heavy pressure. They feared that their reputations would suffer; future research funding would dry up.

"I suggest an additional clause in the draft bill stating that failure in research and innovation will not affect the researcher's ability to continue to apply for research funds," said Xu.

Chen Nanxian, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, said that experiences drawn from failures were themselves valuable. The draft should include a clause reading, "Scientists and technicians are encouraged to shoulder the responsibility of failure and summarize their experiences from the failure."

President Hu Jintao outlined major strategic tasks for building an innovation-oriented country in January.

He said that innovation oriented laws, regulations and scientific and technological development plans should be improved, to create "a favorable mechanism" to inspire future resourcefulness.

Before the law revisions were begun, entrepreneurs and scientists were suggesting that a more relaxed academic environment was necessary in order to encourage independent innovation.

Bai Chunli, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said there was an atmosphere of fear of failure in the scientific fields, which was harmful for modernization.

"It's difficult to make achievements in independent innovation if the scientific research departments and scientists don't tolerate failures," Bai said.

The scientific research process is always a mixture of success and failure; many failures could lead to one success.

Supporters of a change in official attitudes cited the case of Thomas Edison, the US inventor of the electric light bulb, among other devices. They explained that he failed more than 1,000 times before finding the right material to make the filament.

Zhou Houjian, the chairman of the domestic electric appliance producer Hisense, said that the success of his company depended on tolerance of failure during technical innovation.

"The regulation for tolerance towards scientists and technicians to fail encourages more challenging research projects, " he said.

The draft law is expected to be voted upon after further opinions in academic circles are solicited.

(Xinhua News Agency August 28, 2007)

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