Tag: government policy

Bioethics Blogs

China’s plans for research-grant reforms get cautious welcome

Last week, China quietly announced a reform plan aimed at overhauling its competitive scientific funding system. The new system, though only vaguely defined, will take the bulk of competitive funding and redirect through five new channels. It could, some commenters observe, even lead to a dissolution of are a drastic restructuring of the ministry of science and education. But will it be a real reform or just lip service?

According to Chinese media sources, the reforms will streamline distribution of grants and reduce the amount of duplicated experiments. But the problems in need of fixing run much deeper than inefficient use of funds, says Richard Suttmeier, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Oregon who has consulted the Chinese government on science policy. Suttmeier says there is a “pressing need” to fix the current funding arrangements, which “tend to produce derivative research and have contributed to misconduct and corruption”.

Various scientists and policy experts, including Suttmeier, are hoping the reforms will dramatically alter the way science is practised in the country and, while details are still are not clear, welcoming the news with caution.

No one expects a destabilizing, overnight change. Xue Lan, a government policy and management expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing, does however warn that in the “medium term” there might be a period of confusion, during which the “many familiar programmes are consolidated and the agencies running them change”. Eventually, he says, grants will be more substantial and scientists will be able to “focus on their research without having to run around to get bits of grant here and there,” Xue adds.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

US announces rules for potential bioterror agents

A long-awaited US government policy on biological research that could be used for terrorism or other nefarious purposes is little changed from a draft released 19 months ago, despite receiving 38 comments from institutions and researchers concerned that it goes either too far or not far enough. The centrepiece of the policy, released on 24 September, is a set of guidelines for researchers working on 15 specific pathogens or toxins. But the rules do not regulate experiments that engineer pathogens not on the list to make them more deadly – so-called gain-of-function research.  Officials from the White House and US National Institutes of Health (NIH) say the government will be addressing these concerns in coming weeks.

The White House released its first draft policy on dual-use research of concern, or DURC, in February 2013. The policy requires researchers at institutions that receive funding from the US government and are working with one of 15 specific pathogens or toxins to notify their institutions if there is potential that their work could be misused. The institutions will then assess whether or not the research qualifies as DURC. In parallel, the federal government will assess whether such research should receive funding. It will work with the institutions to plan how to manage concerns such as containment of listed pathogens and the public release of information that could allow them to be misused. Amy Patterson, director of the NIH Office of Science Policy, says that it is “incumbent upon investigators”  to report projects that have become potentially dangerous since they were funded, such as the discovery of a new pathogen, at which point the institutions and government would review the project again.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.