Part of the arguments for increased scientific funding, regardless of country, focus on international competitiveness. And the rise of China’s scientific enterprise is usually mentioned, especially in the countries already established in the research firmament.
However, what doesn’t get as much attention – perhaps because it undercuts the desired external threat – is the health of China’s research system. The latest problems to come to light (it’s the third science-related incident reported by the Chinese antigraft committee this year) involve fraud in grants managed by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology and awarded to Fudan University in Shanghai (H/T ScienceInsider).
The specific concerns should be familiar to anyone concerned with ethics. Conflicts of interest, too many outside appointments, and in some cases outright skimming of funds. The rapid increase of investment in research and development certainly invites attention from researchers and those seeking to exploit an opportunity. Only now does the Chinese government appear to be catching up with the latter category. Whether university oversight has remains to be seen.
Now the problems plaguing Chinese research are not unique. Every country needs to be vigilant with the research investments it makes and in making sure its personnel conduct themselves and their work in ways consistent with accepted ethical practices – scientific and otherwise. But until oversight and proper research controls are better institutionalized in China, the problem could affect the quality of research output from that country. As that output becomes a larger share of global output, concerns over the quality of Chinese research should be a concern for anyone seeking to rely on it – regardless of where they reside.