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AAAS and Science Staff Enhance Collaborative Efforts in China

AAAS staff members traveled to China in September to help promote the role of women in science during the meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Tianjin, to take part in a Hangzhou meeting on ethics in science, and to encourage the communication of peer-reviewed research.

In addition, Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts challenged next-generation Chinese innovators to investigate the major mysteries of cellular biology. “The future belongs to you,” Alberts told a hall packed with students at Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing, given that “we only know about 5% of what we need to know about the chemistry of cells and tissues.” As one example, Alberts emphasized the need to “obtain the information needed to accurately describe the mechanisms of every type of protein machine in a cell.”


Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts challenged next-generation Chinese innovators to investigate the major mysteries of cellular biology during a packed address at Peking University Health Science Center. | Photo by Ginger Pinholster

Alberts later traveled to Tianjin for the annual meeting of TWAS, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, which has just changed its name to The World Academy of Sciences. (He was elected as an Associate Fellow of TWAS in 2001.) There, Chinese President Hu Jintao “highlighted the breakthrough potential for prime research fields, including biology, energy, and space technology,” China Daily newspaper reported on 20 September.


“It was a real affirmation of the place of science and technology in China,” said Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources of AAAS, after hearing the Chinese president’s speech. “In addition, he made a major financial commitment to TWAS.”

The conference was highlighted by the first-ever election of a Chinese scientist—Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences—to serve as president of TWAS. A week before his selection was announced, Bai Chunli dined with Alberts. While in Beijing, Alberts also took part in an International Traffic Safety Forum, met with Xuetao Cao, president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and joined China’s Minister of Health, Chen Zhu, for dinner. In these meetings, he was accompanied by Richard Stone, chief Asia news editor of Science, and Mara Hvistendahl, the journal’s news correspondent in Shanghai.

Alberts, who serves as the U.S. science envoy to Indonesia and Pakistan, had previously met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as the Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang, among others.

“The fundamental reason why I go to China each year is to help build bridges between U.S. and Chinese scientists for the future, when our nations must largely function as partners supported by many personal relations of trust and cooperation,” said Alberts, former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. “Of course, I also travel with members of the Science team to help make connections useful for our magazine.”

On 13 September, Alberts’ Peking University presentation included a candid description of his initial failure, as a Harvard University graduate student, to explain the precise mechanisms of DNA replication. “Failure is how we grow and how we learn,” he said, noting that his laboratory did later describe the protein machine that generates a new DNA double-helix molecule by copying strands of an existing one. “Life is an education. Education does not stop when you get out of school.”

Based on that experience, Alberts advised students to remember that “strategy is everything in science.” He also urged them to widely read the scientific literature, tackle the “major mysteries” in cell biology, consider using model organisms even if they are ultimately concerned with human cells, and “do the hard work.”


During his visit to China, Alberts met with Li Bin, governor of Anhui Province in eastern China. | Photo by Richard Stone

In conclusion, Alberts said: “It will probably take most of this century to gain a thorough understanding of how cells and organisms work. We are going to need a lot of young people doing clever research.”


He would later present similar talks in three other cities, speaking at the Young Scientist Forum in Chongqing, the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, and the International Neural Regeneration Symposium in Shenyang. He also presented a talk on science publishing to the annual meeting of 120 editors-in-chief from Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing.

Shirley Malcom participated in the historic TWAS conference in Tianjin as part of her work with a high-level United Nations gender advisory panel concerned with advancing the interests of women in science. “I have had ongoing collaboration with Fang Xin, president of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD),” Malcom explained. “We co-chair Gender InSITE, a global campaign to focus on women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as critical to development. We also serve together on the TWAS-OWSD Advisory Panel for Women in Science, which met during the TWAS conference.”

Also in September, Mark Frankel, director of the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law Program, participated in the latest in a series of China-based meetings on ethics in science. That meeting, which took place at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, was the latest result of an ongoing collaboration between AAAS and the Chinese Association of Science and Technology. Supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the meeting encompassed three topics: plagiarism, conflict of interest, and authorship and publication issues, Frankel said.

“The project is an effort to develop a set of cross-cultural case studies for research ethics education in the United States and China,” he added. The case studies explored in Hangzhou will be refined based on input from Chinese and U.S. scientists, and ultimately, they will be disseminated online.

Joy Ma (left), associate editor of AAAS’s EurekAlert! Chinese, and Ginger Pinholster, director of the AAAS Office of Public Programs, outside of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

Two other AAAS staff members, Joy Ma, associate editor of EurekAlert! Chinese, and Ginger Pinholster, director of the AAAS Office of Public Programs, met with an array of China-based journal editors and publishers as well as Beijing-based reporters to encourage science communication. Influential reporters, including Science and Technology Daily Editor-in-Chief Liu Yadong, CCTV English Channel Chief Editor Zhu Yan, Yu Zheng, a top editor with Xinhua News Agency, and many others joined Alberts and his wife Betty for a special media dinner on 18 September. Hvistendahl also took part in the dinner. Ruolei Wu of the AAAS Office of Publishing and Membership Services provided logistical support for various aspects of Alberts’ trip.

“Science and technology are advancing very rapidly in China, but continued progress will require broad public support for the scientific enterprise, and that’s where you come in,” Alberts told reporters. “We need good reporters to explain research findings to the public so they can be well-informed about climate change and food safety and a whole range of science-based issues that affect their lives.”

EurekAlert!, AAAS’s popular science-news service in English, now serves more than 8800 registered reporters. Among English-speaking science reporters, EurekAlert! has become a standard mechanism for communicating peer-reviewed research news from top journals, universities, national laboratories, and research centers. “EurekAlert! Chinese was established several years ago to extend the successful EurekAlert! system, by helping China-based science organizations convey high-quality research content to reporters worldwide,” Ma explained.

China Daily reported 17 September that the country is ramping up its support for science. “The government allocated 228.55 billion yuan ($36.18 billion) to scientific research in its 2012 budget,” Cheng Yingqi reported. “Funding is up on last year when it was 203.41 billion yuan and 172.83 billion yuan in 2010.” Chinese Academy of Sciences President Bai Chunli was quoted as saying that Chinese scientists “have to be unorthodox, think out of the box, break new ground” to achieve truly innovative advances in science and technology.

In a separate article on 19 September, the newspaper reported that China had 1.42 million people engaged in research and development in 2010.