Letters – 15 November 2018

November 15, 2018

Work with any party involves a judgement call

The article “Scientists urged to rethink China links” (News, 8 November) states that those who work with military scientists in China, in effect, support the Chinese Communist Party “to enhance its capacity to stay in power indefinitely”.

If that is the sole reason for reviewing links such as these between the UK and China, we must also include Chinese thinktanks, government bodies under the State Council in the People’s Republic and, for that matter, the elite universities, most of whose leaders are appointed by the Organisation of the Communist Party, and serve on the Central Committee of that body, and all of whom get the bulk of their funding from the central or local party state. All these can be said to support the Chinese Communist Party to stay in power indefinitely. Not to do so would, in effect, be institutional suicide.

Engagement with state enterprises would need review too, as well as pretty much all but the smallest non-state companies, all of which must, by a recent law, have party secretaries within their ranks.

Since when did we engage with other countries solely with a view to supporting or opposing their domestic systems? On that basis, those with concerns about the current US administration would start cutting off links to see if that brought about collapse. Good luck with that one.

Scientists and, for that matter, academics at any level, in any field, whether dealing with China or any other country, need to maintain the same standards. Can we protect our research from intellectual property theft, can we ensure that there are robust protocols in place to protect our joint research and its outcomes from political or other forms of interference? Do we know enough and have we worked enough with our partners to make this cooperation properly reciprocal, sustainable and ethically defensible in terms of field research, protection of data, and undertaking of clinical studies? Do we, in the end, have broadly the same values as those we are working with in terms of how we understand scholarship?

It is perfectly possible that there are areas in which the outside world can work with the People’s Liberation Army in China. There are others where it should not. If we start making judgements on the political ambitions of the bodies that we work with, surely that equates to politicisation as egregious as the very thing being resisted.

Kerry Brown
Professor of Chinese studies Director, Lau China Institute
King’s College London


Prize enough

Nobel laureate Donna Strickland has a “duty” to fight against inequality, Anna Notaro argues in her article “With a great prize comes great responsibility” (Opinion, 31 October).

Like Notaro, we rejoiced in the announcement of Strickland’s award. She is a huge role model for female scientists, and she will do more to inspire young women to continue in science than most of us will in a lifetime.

But we should have the same expectations of her as we do of the male prizewinners in relation to championing gender equality in science. Gender inequality (like other forms of inequality) hurts science for everyone, and it is everyone’s responsibility to address it, not just women’s. We believe that Notaro has fallen into the “unconscious bias” trap of holding women to higher standards of behaviour than men. This is unreasonable.

Strickland’s achievement is immense. It would be wonderful if her excellence in physics were matched by a wish to be a standard-bearer for female scientists. But if it is not, we should not criticise her for this. She has done enough for gender equality in getting a Nobel prize – let us congratulate her without any reservations.

Jane E. Norman, professor of maternal and fetal health
Polly Arnold, Crum Brown chair of chemistry
Sara Shinton, assistant director, Institute of Academic Development
Karen Halliday, chair of systems physiology
Job Thijssen, chancellor’s fellow, School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Edinburgh


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THE.Letters@timeshighereducation.com

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