AAAS and China’s Research Funding Agency Seek More Alliances

Rush Holt and Yang Wei exchanged ideas about building on existing scientific collaborations. | Juan David Romero/AAAS

AAAS CEO Rush Holt and Yang Wei, the president of China’s leading scientific research funding agency, explored ways to expand ongoing scientific collaborations during a meeting at AAAS’s Washington headquarters on 23 August.

Holt, the executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said the discussion with Yang, who leads the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), underscores how alliances deepen relationships to the benefit of research and science overall. The Chinese foundation is similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health combined.

“U.S. and Chinese scientific collaborations like those AAAS has supported and promoted for years play a significant role in advancing discovery on a global scale,” said Holt after the meeting that also included representatives of the Chinese foundation’s bureau of international cooperation, an official from the Chinese Embassy in Washington as well as four other AAAS officials. “These alliances not only lead to scientific revelations, but they also transcend traditional political boundaries.”

Yang, who took the helm of the funding agency in 2013, said the meeting identified four opportunities for the two organizations to expand partnerships in the areas of promoting women in science programs, helping engage young researchers, strengthening links that bind science education and scientific research, and improving scientific communication.

In addition, Yang acknowledged AAAS is as a leader in advancing the interests of science in the realm of public policy, saying his organization is eager to study AAAS’s expertise in this area. “AAAS is at the forefront of science policy, how to advance science, so we would like to learn,” he said.

Holt echoed the areas cited by Yang as promising opportunities that stand at the center of many of AAAS’s strategic initiatives.

“Basic science, or basic research, is an enterprise shared by all human people,” said Yang, pointing to alliances most likely to enhance partnerships between China and the United States. “For many in this field there is no competition. It is not like national defense or the military … Basic science is without borders.”

The meeting, the first between Holt and Yang, also focused on continuing efforts to strengthen the integrity of scientific research through education and rules.

Yang, the former president of China’s prestigious Zhejiang University and previously an active member of the China Association for Science & Technology, the closest organization to AAAS in China, led multiple workshops on research integrity, including on the development of ethical cases for use in university classrooms along with AAAS’ Mark Frankel, director emeritus Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law program.

“A core part of the AAAS-China relationship has been the collaboration, begun in 2007, between AAAS and the China Association for Science & Technology on research integrity, an activity in which Dr. Yang has been closely involved,” said Frankel, who co-authored a paper on research integrity with Yang in 2015. “Out of that effort a clear consensus has emerged that integrity in science is critical to the success of scientific discovery, and that greater sharing of information about how each country approaches such matters can lead to improved global efforts to promote ethically responsible research.”

Yang stressed the strength of scientific collaborations between U.S. and Chinese scientists, citing the number of co-authored research papers written by Chinese and American scientists. He said they have grown and now account for about half of Chinese scientists’ international collaborations.

A 2016 statistical review by the National Science Foundation of such partnerships found that China accounted for 18.7% of all U.S. internationally coauthored publications, based on 2013 data, the most recent, a level that places Chinese scientific authors as the most frequent with whom U.S. scientist co-author scientific reports. “The collaboration is very strong,” Yang said. 

Celeste Rohlfing, AAAS’ chief operating officer, pointed to the enduring quality of cooperation in the area of scientific research between U.S. and Chinese scientists. “AAAS has long enjoyed deep ties to China’s scientific community,” Rohlfing said. “Today, we explored multiple ways to continue to advance our collaborations and extend our mutual interest in furthering scientific discovery.”

[Associated image: From left, two Chinese associates and Yang gather after meeting with AAAS’ Rush Holt, Celeste Rohlfing, Philippa Benson, and Mark Frankel | Juan David Romero/AAAS]