The PR China is now the world’s largest producer of scientific articles. It is home to scientists whose groundbreaking and sometimes quite controversial findings and methods regularly make world news, and pours a staggering amount of money into funding research and frontier experiments, both domestically and internationally. Moreover, the Chinese political leadership has, with increasing vehemence in recent years, clearly formulated its ambition to make China a leading scientific power. This initiative represents probably the most overt utilization of science for political goals since the block confrontation during the Cold War. From a distance, observers come to very different preliminary assessments of these developments: while some fear that the world will be buried under an “avalanche” of Chinese science (The Guardian, 2014) that could change the way in which science is practiced, others assert it to be impossible to achieve genuine scientific leadership under an authoritarian regime.
Going beyond sensational reporting, this Lise Meitner Research Group will take a close and comprehensive look at these various developments, with a special interest in exploring the role of the political regime and non-political social structures as environmental factors for science in contemporary Chinese society, in international academic cooperation, and in world science. Group members and associates with diverse disciplinary backgrounds will pursue qualitative and quantitative analyses in the following core research areas:
- Chinese perspectives on the status of science in society; esp. the autonomy of science vs. its political steering, and science-policy/regime interfaces—this includes explorations of, at a macro level, conceptualizations of academic freedom/autonomy of science and their alternatives, the evolution, connections and ruptures of narratives and paradigms of historical scientific greatness and achievements, socialist heritage and Cold War-style system competition, the reform oriented “technocratic” model after 1978, and a current and seemingly unique sciento-nationalism of a new kind; as well as the apparently increasing function and status of science and scientific expertise in micro political contexts, including in local governance and public protest.
- Structures, dimensions, and norms of China’s contemporary science policy—a mapping of the main goals, elements, priorities, and normative foundations of current political plans, and of the institutions and actors in this policy field; studies of the related processes and practices observable, both domestically and in the international arena; and an analysis of the seeming conflict between the “unity of science” vs. special policies for social sciences and the humanities.
- Steering vs. agency of scientific communities, networks and individuals in China and in international cooperation—studies comprising an assessment of political impact across different disciplines, on communities, and on individuals and their networks; as well as an analysis of how much of scientific conduct and behavior is really steered or regulated, vis-à-vis the available room for independent initiative and agency, or even counter-strategies.
- Interactions of scientific standards and practices with societal values and ethical principles in China and beyond: what are these standards, values, and principles, and does one side impact on or dominate the other, and how—both in China domestically and in global academic collaborations?