Tue, Aug 16, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Cross-strait research hits a snag

LOCATION:A neurobiologist at Peking University is seeking to change more than a decade of apolitical collaboration between scientists on both sides of the Strait

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

Cross-strait politics entered the world of science recently after a Chinese neurobiologist insisted that Taiwanese co-authors identify their university as being located in “Taiwan, China.”

News of the spat were first reported by ScienceInsider, a blog of the Science journal, on Friday, which said that cross-strait cooperation on scientific research had accelerated in the past decade. Usually, collaborators from both sides stayed clear of politics by avoiding references to “Republic of China” and “People’s Republic of China” and simply using “Taiwan” and China” respectively, it said.

However, the growing sense of nationalism in China appears to have entered the lab, with neurobiologist Rao Yi (饒毅) of Peking University insisting that a Taiwanese team led by neurobiologist Chiang Ann-shyn (江安世) of National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Hsinchu, which collaborated with Rao’s group on research, identify the university as being located in “Taiwan, China.”

Following back-and-forth visits and “exchanges of ideas,” one of Chiang’s students assisted Rao’s research team with scientific experiments seeking to understand the role of octopamine, a biomolecule, in the brain of Drosophila, a genus of small flies commonly known as “fruit flies.”

Rao drafted a paper on the findings and included Chiang and the student as co-authors. However, references to NTHU located it in “Taiwan, China.”

“It was unexpected,” Chiang is quoted as saying in the story, adding that projects funded by the National Science Council give scientists the right to state their address as “Taiwan” or “Taiwan, Republic of China.”

Rao, ScienceInsider said, also requested that the Taiwanese scientific community endorse such designation for universities in Taiwan.

In a letter to National Science Council Minister Lee Lou-chuang (李羅權) last week, in which the editor-in-chief of Science magazine was copied, Rao said a reasonable compromise was for the two sides to drop the “PR” and the “RO,” while retaining the word “China.” He said his group was willing to drop the PRC designation from its address and simply use “Beijing, China,” adding that Taiwan should reciprocate.

In a follow-up e-mail to ScienceInsider, Rao explained the rationale behind his decision.

“On the mainland [sic] side, the major concern is about Taiwan independence. When a paper lists ‘Taipei, Taiwan’ together with ‘Beijing, China,’ it equates Taiwan with China, not as a part of it,” he wrote.

If the council does not change the rule, it would be “extremely difficult for mainland Chinese scientists to co-author papers explicitly or implicitly endorsing a Taiwan that is not a part of China,” he said.

Rao’s contention goes in the face of nearly 15 years of scientific collaboration across the Taiwan Strait, which started with joint efforts between Academia Sinica’s Institute of Physics and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of High Energy Physics.

“We have been using the ‘Taipei, Taiwan’ and ‘Beijing, China’ affiliation format in our publications since the birth of the [collaboration] in 1997,” says Henry Wong, who handles collaboration on Taiwan’s side, was quoted as saying.

According to National Science Council Deputy Minister Chen Cheng-hong (陳正宏), the number of papers with co-authors from Taiwan and China grew from 1,035 in 2009 to 1,207 last year.

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