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[IFENG.COM]MA Liang: Tamping the System Firewall and Returning the Spirit of Scientists

Recently, the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the General Office of the State Council issued "Opinions on Further Promoting the Spirit of Scientists and Strengthening the Construction of Style of Work and Study", which calls for the establishment of common values and strengthening the construction of Style of Work and Study.

In the current unpredictable international situation and the transformation and upgrading of domestic development, only by vigorously promoting the spirit of scientists and encouraging scientific and technological innovation can we achieve a steady improvement of overall national strength and sustained strengthening of global competitiveness.

The Opinions relentlessly points out many drawbacks existing in the scientific and technological circles, such as "circle" culture, "rejecting others by virtue of power and academic status in academia" style, "four only" tendencies (only papers, only professional titles, only academic qualifications, only awards), scientific research dishonesty, exaggeration, impetuosity and opportunism.

It should be admitted that these problems are not sensational new phenomena, but a prominent manifestation of the long-standing institutional maladies in the scientific and technological community.

In view of the above problems existing in the scientific and technological circles, the State Council has issued documents on many occasions, requiring the reform of the scientific and technological management system and mechanism, the adjustment of scientific research personnel evaluation standards, and the streamlining of the scientific and technological funds project management procedures. However, the key problem is that the policy implementation is not in place. Some universities and scientific research institutes have not really implemented the documents, and even violated the spirit of the documents by "increasing the difficulties layer by layer" or even "intensification" of policy implementation.

Scientific and technological work is a hard job, often requiring scientific researchers to "sit on the bench for ten years and not write half a sentence empty". However, in today's society with advanced science and technology and excessive secularization, if we want to keep the spirit of scientists, we must reduce the burden, loosen the bondage, support and encourage them, give them full trust, and provide them with a comprehensive institutional guarantee.

Knowledge workers often devote themselves to scientific and technological work based on their interests, curiosity and sense of mission. They have strong self-discipline and internal drive. The scientific and technological community itself operates on the basis of peer review criteria and consensus of the scientific community. Without external intervention, it can achieve the "peer review, user use, market recognition", which manifests the principle of “survival of the fittest”. Scientific and technological innovation has great uncertainty and risk of failure. It can’t be managed and controlled in the way of pipeline work.

Many Internet companies, at any cost, provide their knowledge workers with excellent working conditions and comfortable and free working environment, which is precisely to recognize the uniqueness of scientific and technological work itself. Otherwise, scientific research personnel are required to punch in and sit on time, and the use and reimbursement of scientific research funds are limited by complicated procedures, which may not necessarily lead to the harvest of scientific research results.

From the perspective of science and technology management in developed countries, whether professors run schools or professional societies autonomy, they respect and empower the scientific community to maintain academic norms and scientific reputation. For scientific and technological innovation, excessive interference from government departments should be minimized, and the self-discipline and purifying functions of academic communities and professional associations of science and technology should be brought into play to a greater extent. Like encouraging entrepreneurship, we should take similar measures to promote the spirit of scientists and create a suitable ecological environment and a relaxed working atmosphere for scientific researchers.

The scientific and technological community is a loose organization based on reputation, and the researchers are "feather-loving". Self-discipline and even prudence based on trust should be respected rather than all kinds of monitoring and intervention imposed. It is of vital importance that scientists should not be strictly defended as "thieves", but should be provided with a relaxed and soft environment so that they can be fully authorized, respected and recognized in all aspects of scientific research work. The Opinions put forward a “scientific research management mechanism based on the premise of building trust and the bottom line of honesty”, and deepened the reform of “Simplified Administration, Combined Simplification and Management, Optimized Service” in the field of scientific research, which hit the mark.

To this end, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Education and other relevant departments should promulgate implementation rules to make the good methods proposed in the Opinions feasible. In addition to reducing the burden and loosening the bondage of scientific researchers, we should also give full authorization and decentralization to grassroots scientific research institutions so that they can provide a relaxed scientific research environment and a suitable scientific research atmosphere for scientific researchers.

From the working status of researchers in China and developed countries, we can find that they are busy, but the contents and ways of busy are quite different. Researchers in developed countries can devote themselves wholeheartedly to scientific research. Generally speaking, there are not many administrative affairs and procedures, and even if there are, they can be assisted by specialized administrative personnel. Chinese researchers have to spend time and energy dealing with many complicated and inefficient administrative procedures, which not only wastes time and energy, but also affects the scientific research mentality.

The Opinions points out that "reducing the burden" for scientific researchers, "vigorously solving the outstanding problems of too many forms, too many reimbursements, confused brands, frequent inspections and so on". Many subjects and projects have complicated declaration procedures, cumbersome reimbursement procedures, and lengthy problem-solving process, which make scientific researchers bear too much administrative burden. For example, some scientific research projects require special software to be installed, many irrelevant information to be filled in repeatedly, several copies to be printed for review, and often require "sudden spending". The establishment of these administrative procedures is not only caused by the lazy departments, but also related to their distrust of scientific researchers.

Only by reversing the values of scientific and technological work and introducing the reform of “Simplified Administration, Combined Simplification and Management, Optimized Service” and "run at most once" into the field of scientific research can we fundamentally solve the problem of excessive administrative burdens.

In terms of research ethics review, most developed countries regard scientific research dishonesty and academic misconduct as an insurmountable red line. The harsh punishment of disgrace and loss of jobs also makes researchers seldom dare to take risks to test the method. The Opinions proposed that we should adopt a "zero tolerance" attitude towards scientific research dishonesty, which means that we should increase the punishment for scientific research dishonesty and academic misconduct, so that scientific researchers dare not and can’t lose their faith and morality. Scientific research institutes can’t "lift high and drop lightly" on scientific and research dishonesty, and even appear strange phenomena of unit shelter and favoritism and fraud.

To this end, we should strengthen the system firewall of scientific research integrity, let scientific and technological workers who abide by the bottom line of scientific and research honesty get due respect and recognition, and make those who fail to be honest in scientific and research pay the price they dare not overstep, so as to promote scientific and research integrity into a virtuous circle.