AAAS and Chinese Science Organization Explore New Collaboration

CAST Vice President Xu Yanhao, left center, and AAAS Director of International Relations Julia MacKenzie, right center, led a meeting of AAAS and CAST officials to discuss science literacy.  | Anne Q. Hoy

Leaders of the China Association for Science and Technology and counterparts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science explored on Wednesday ways to build on a longstanding collaboration between the two scientific organizations through science communication and education partnerships.

During a meeting at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., six CAST representatives highlighted a three-day world conference the organization is hosting on science literacy in Beijing beginning on Sept. 17. The event will mark the 60th anniversary of CAST, a non-governmental federation of Chinese academic societies, associations and grassroots organizations dedicated to augmenting science literacy throughout China.

Xu Yanhao, a vice president and executive secretary of CAST, voiced particular interest in AAAS’ communication training programs and called on a colleague who heads up such efforts to describe steps taken to advance public understanding of science throughout China. 

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the improvement of science literacy for all Chinese citizens,” said Qian Yan, deputy director-general of CAST’s Department of Science Popularization – a term that refers to a broad range of communication and educational initiatives that expand public understanding of science.

To quantify the task, CAST collaborated with more than 30 government programs and divided the nation’s population into four groups of adolescents, civil servants, workers and farmers, Qian said. Over the last decade, CAST has increased measures of science literacy to 6.2% from 1.6% by engaging the public through targeted activities and moving away from an earlier government-led approach, Qian said.

Bill Moran, publisher of the Science family of journals, discussed another central interest raised by Xu: how Chinese scientists are perceived by editors of leading scientific journals. Last June the number of manuscript submissions from Chinese scientists to scientific journals overall surpassed submissions from U.S. scientists, Moran noted, adding that the Chinese submissions rate overall was just behind the number of submissions from the European Union. A lower proportionate number of papers including Chinese authors have been accepted for publication, he said, but they are growing.

“The same holds for Science magazine,” Moran added. “If you look at pure numbers, we see the trend is upward. The number of accepted papers shows that the bar has been raised for researchers from China and the quality of research is improving.”

AAAS and CAST have a history of cooperation – a partnership that is among AAAS’ most enduring international collaborations. AAAS first reached out to China’s science, technology and engineering community when the AAAS Board of Directors traveled to China in 1978, a year before the two nations established diplomatic relations. Since then, AAAS and CAST have continued to seek ways to deepen mutual engagement between scientists and engineers.

The 1978 meeting cleared the way for the organizations to reach their first formal agreement in 2007. The collaboration put in place joint publishing projects that resulted in a collection of scientific research papers, first published in Science, being translated and distributed in China and a set of science literacy materials developed by AAAS’ Project 2061, a science literacy program, being translated and posted on a CAST website. In 2016, AAAS renewed the agreement for five years.

Among other joint efforts, EurekAlert!, an online news service of AAAS, has provided science communication seminars to CAST’s public information officers. AAAS also has collaborated with CAST on issues of scientific integrity and professional ethics, a partnership that provides CAST with access to training materials that “highlight cultural differences between the two countries that may affect how issues of scientific integrity are understood and may impact cross-national research, something which is in the interest of researchers in both countries,” said Jessica Wyndham, director of the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law program.

The meeting between AAAS and CAST representatives comes at a time of bilateral tensions between the United States and China. The White House has proposed implementing tariffs on Chinese goods and limiting Chinese investments, particularly those related to the U.S. technological innovation sector, in a move intended to better protect U.S. intellectual property.

The Chinese government has recently mandated that all scientific data collected in China be turned over to government-approved data centers before appearing in publication, an action about which the U.S. National Science Foundation raised concerns

The White House also is considering imposing further visas restrictions, according to news reports, that could limit the ability of Chinese students and scholars to travel to the U.S., drawing caution from Rush Holt, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.

“To remain the world leader in advancing scientific knowledge and innovation while ensuring national security, the U.S. science and technology enterprise must continue to capitalize on the international and multicultural environment within which it operates,” said Holt in a May 1 statement.

“We strongly recommend that the administration work with the scientific community to assess and develop potential policy actions that advance our nation’s prosperity,” Holt said. “Where specific and confirmed espionage is occurring, action must be taken, but obstructing scientific exchange based on non-specific concerns that could be applied to broad swaths of people is ill-conceived and damaging to American interests.”

[Associated image: markgranitz/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]