Scientific Academies In Asia Research Paper

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The criterion for selection of the institutions described in this research paper is that academic research is their main function. Hence, academies that focus mainly on teaching, and policy-oriented research institutes, are not included. Taiwan’s Academia Sinica is examined in terms of organization and research accomplishment, as well as its role in society. Similar research academies in mainland China and in Japan are also briefly introduced.

1. The Academia Sinica, Taiwan

1.1 Organization

The Academia Sinica was founded in mainland China 1928 in with two major missions: to undertake research in science and the humanities and to instigate, co- ordinate and encourage academic research. In 1949, after the Chinese civil war, the Academia was moved to Taiwan and re-established at the present site in 1954. The Academia has been headed by seven presidents since its founding, and the current president, Dr. Lee Yuan-Tseh, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, took office in 1994.

The upper-level organization of the Academia Sinica comprises three parts: the convocation, the council, and the central advisory committee. The convocation is a biennial meeting attended by preeminent Chinese scholars from all over the world who are elected to be academicians of the Academia Sinica. The year 2000 saw the 26th convocation and most of the 193 academicians—an honorary lifetime title— gathered to elect new academicians and council members. They also proposed research policies for the Academia Sinica. The council consists of 18 ex officio members, including all directors of research institutes, and 35 elected members. Specific functions of the council include review of research projects, evaluation of proposals related to institutional changes, promotion of academic cooperation within and outside Taiwan and, perhaps most importantly, to present a shortlist of three candidates for the presidency of the Academia Sinica to the President of the Republic of China, who make the final decision. The central advisory committee, established in 1991, includes chairpersons of the advisory committees of individual institutes and three to nine specialists nominated by the president of the Academia Sinica. Their tasks are to recruit scholars of various disciplines as well as to suggest long-term and interdisciplinary research plans to the president. The committee is also responsible for evaluating large-scale cross-institutional research projects, applications for postdoctoral research posts, and the annual awards for junior researchers’ publications.

But the core of the Academia Sinica is made up of the 25 institutes/preparatory offices classified into three divisions: Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Humanities and Social Sciences (see Table 1). In 2000, 815 research staff (including 13 distinguished research fellows, 324 research fellows, 197 associate research fellows, 138 assistant research fellows, and 143 research assistants) conducted active research either individually or in groups within, as well as across, institutions. In addition to the research staff, postdoctoral researchers, contracted research assistants, and administrative officers add up to approximately 3,000 people working in the Academia Sinica.

Scientific Academies In Asia Research Paper Table 1

1.2 Research Focus And Achievements

There are six fundamental principles or basic goals guiding academic research in Academia Sinica (Lee 1999) Examples of research accomplishments, landmark research projects and significant publications are discussed below.

1.2.1 A Balance Between Scientific And Humanitarian Research. Critics have condemned the dominance of scientific over humanitarian research in Taiwan. This imbalance came about because of the general need to modernize the country’s economy in the postwar years. During this process, most resources were allocated to technology-oriented research. As a result, natural science and the life sciences enjoyed a major share of manpower as well as of budget. In later years, especially after the lifting of martial law on Taiwan in the 1980s, the environment for social sciences research improved greatly. The humanities and social sciences (at least in the Academia Sinica) have received relatively fair treatment if adequacy of regular budget is used as an indicator. This is perhaps a rare phenomenon worldwide.

The Academia Sinica claims to have achieved balanced development among its three divisions: Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Humanities and Social Sciences. This has been achieved by setting different criteria for the various divisions with regard to both their research direction and evaluation, and by building up a lively academic community that allows researchers from various divisions to work on the same topic.

A recently completed study on Taiwanese aboriginals is one example of such a project. Under the coordination of a researcher from the Institute of Ethnology, staff from Biomedical Sciences, along with scholars from universities and hospitals, jointly investigated the migratory history, the hereditary traits from blood samples, and the ethnic differences of aboriginals in order to establish possible genetic polymorphic markers. This type of joint endeavor by different disciplines continues and is given priority in the funding process. An ongoing study of cardiovascular-related disease, the second leading cause of death in Taiwan, is another example. The study intends to collect multifaceted community data to help combat this disease. Funded by the Academia Sinica, researchers in epidemiology, social demography, economics and statistics have formed an interdisciplinary team to tackle the issue from various angles.

1.2.2 A Balance Between Indigenous And International Research. In the late 1990s the question of the relative priority of indigenization versus internationalization of academic research was much debated among social scientists in Taiwan. Supporters of indigenization emphasized the particularistic or the unique aspect of social science studies in Taiwan and the importance of avoiding the influence of dominant Western models. To others, however, internalization of social sciences is regarded as an inevitable global trend fitting into the theme of ‘knowledge without national boundaries.’

Regarding debates on the nature of the research, the Academia Sinica takes a balanced stand. On the one hand, it encourages active participation in the valued conventional research areas. On the other hand, focusing on Taiwan’s particular social issues and disseminating relevant research findings is considered to be important for the intellectual community and for mankind in general. Hence, the Academia Sinica has funded large-scale research projects that have both of the above purposes in goal.

A recent group project on the long-term development of capitalism in Taiwan has the potential to extend the Taiwanese experience to other Asian economies. This study encompasses the history of agricultural and industrial developments in Taiwan, trade and navigational expansion, macroeconomic performance, and the role the Taiwan Development Company played in the consolidation of capitalism in the territory. From the colonial era to the period of Japanese rule and the postwar era, Taiwan has gone through significant social transitions in its capitalist development. Although each stage may be characterized by different sets of institutions, one common factor emerges from the historical process: the expansion of exports (from tea, sugar, rice, processed foods, to light manufactured goods and producer goods). The exploration of the origin and the evolution of capitalist development in Taiwan will not only benefit the local academies, but will enhance the comparative study of economic development in other countries.

1.2.3 A Balance Between Basic And Applied Research. Academic research is the main function of the Academia Sinica. However, increasing demands are being made on it to provide research results for applied use. The Academia Sinica recognizes the necessity to respond to important social phenomena and the need for technological development in its research endeavors. Heavy emphasis has been placed on the implementation of findings from basic research. An equal amount of effort has also been allocated to promoting applied research that may shed light on the consequent academic research. Two illustrations from Information Science and Life Science will highlight this recent focus.

A study on natural language understanding is directed towards the construction of a computer program with a knowledge system that is capable of understanding human perception of various recognition systems. The project has successfully developed a concept recognition mechanism called the ‘Information Map.’ This map arranges human knowledge in a hierarchical fashion with a cross-referencing capability. Using the information map, concept understanding can be reduced to intelligent semantic search in the knowledge system. This project has already produced a semantic ‘Yellow Page’ search for a telephone company and an automatic question and answer agent on the internet. A popular product of its Chinese phonetic input system is a typing software package widely used by the public. Another well-known research project with excellent applied values is the method for detecting differentially expressed genes. The research group has developed a DNA microarray with colorimetric detection system to simultaneously monitor the expression of thousands of genes in a microarray format on nylon membrane. Testing on filter membranes and quantifying the expression levels of the target genes in cells under different physiological or diseased states will reduce each screening process to a couple of days.

It is clear that the applied research is basically restricted to non-social sciences. In social science divisions, market-oriented or consumer-involved studies remain quite rare. Researchers are mostly committed to basic research funded by the institute or by the National Science Council. Although policy study is ostensibly given a high priority, the fact that institutes to be established in the near future will still specialize in the basic disciplines reflects a general emphasis on this area. At present, few policy-oriented research projects are undertaken by individuals.

1.2.4 Coordination And Promotion Of Academic Research In Taiwan. Under the new organizational law, which allows more flexibility for research institutes to establish ad hoc research centers, the Academia Sinica will be given the responsibility of proposing a national academic research agenda, coordinating academic research in Taiwan, and training intellectual manpower. These tasks reflect the central role of the Academia Sinica in Taiwanese academies. In order to meet these requirements, the Academia has attempted to collaborate with various universities by exchanging teaching and research staffs. Ad hoc research committees and specific research programs including scholars from different institutes have also been established.

The committees on Sinological Research, on Social Problems, on Taiwan Studies, and on Mainland China Studies—all established since 1997—exemplify such an effort. These committees are interdisciplinary in nature, and comprise scholars from within as well as outside the Academia Sinica. The committee may focus on a few selected research issues and organize related seminars conferences. The committee is also allowed to form various taskforces to plan future collaborative research topics. Besides the ad hoc research committees, the promotion of large-scale cross-institutional research projects has become important to the Academia Sinica. A so-called ‘thematic project’ will share a common research framework and will include several individual research topics proposed by researchers from different institutes and universities. The study of the organization-centered society represents one of these group efforts. In the investigation of modern social structure, nine subprojects were proposed, all funded exclusively by the Academia Sinica. Their findings on the importance of impersonal trust in Taiwan’s economic development—instead of the traditional interpersonal trust— as key to organizational success, has given rise to the future research perspective that a modern society such as Taiwan is organization-centered. Similar thematic projects aiming to promote collaborative work among various academic institutes have been encouraged by the granting of funds.

However, it should be pointed out that playing a central role does not equate to having the central planning function. Taiwanese social scientists, in comparison with life scientists or Japanese colleagues, have a strong inclination to pursue individual re-searches. Various researchers joining together in a large communal laboratory or generations of scholars working in the same topic are not common at all. The thematic project in the Academia Sinica, or the joint project promoted by the National Science Council, is more of an initiative to encourage collaborative teamwork rather than a reaction to the present research demand. Whether individual projects maintain their importance or are replaced by group efforts will not change the expectations placed on the Academia Sinica—to respect individual research freedom and to facilitate research needs in Taiwan.

1.2.5 Encouragement Of International Collaboration. Active participation in international research has always been a priority in Taiwan. Researchers are encouraged to present their findings at international meetings and to build collaborative relationships with foreign research groups. Renowned scholars abroad are also frequently invited to visit and to work with research staff at the Academia Sinica. In line with this trend, a proposal has been made to establish an international graduate school at Academia Sinica (Chang 2000). The aim of this program is to attract highly qualified young people to do their Ph.D. degree under the guidance of top researchers in Taiwan. The competitive program is intended to provide the opportunity for independent inquiry as well as dynamic peer interaction; it is assumed that the supportive research environment will facilitate the training of future intellectual leaders and creative scholars. Although this program is yet to be finalized, the Academia Sinica has clearly revealed its interest in taking a concrete step towards globalization by investment in brilliant young minds.

1.2.6 Feedback Into Society. It is the firm belief among academicians that any type of feedback to society from members of the Academia Sinica must be based on solid academic research. Several feedback patterns have been adopted. With regard to emergent social issues, researchers with related knowledge and research findings are encouraged to air their suggestions by organizing conferences or public hearings. The problem of the over-plantation of betel nuts on hills and mountains and their harmful effect on the environmental protection is an example. Short-term research projects—such as the analysis of juvenile delinquency initiated by the committee on social problems—are another possible strategy.

Furthermore, the Academia Sinica opens its campus annually and individual research institutes sponsor introductory lectures to interested students and visitors. Numerous data sets from social science or biological researches, as well as valuable original historical files, are gradually released for public use.

1.3 The Role Of The Academia Sinica

Whether the Academia Sinica should play a role beyond pure academic research and beyond research-based feedback to various social problems has always hotly debated. Some of the more articulate members have been quite vocal in insisting that it should have a stronger role in economic and social life. When it comes to how far the institute should involve itself in politics, however, the issue is more delicate. The subject is closely linked with the role of contemporary intellectuals in Taiwan (Chang 2000), where it is considered permissible for intellectuals to vocalize their moral conscience with regard to significant political issues. Nevertheless, it is precisely because most intellectuals are respected for their professional scholarship, not necessarily the correctness of their political views, that the appropriateness of actual political participation is seriously questioned.

For most ordinary members of the Academia Sinica, the pressure to produce excellent research is the foremost stimulus. Academic ambition is factored into the evaluation of promotion, the review criteria for assessing institutes’ research accomplishment, the process of planning new research development, and in the regular report to the Legislative Yuan. Nevertheless, considering that research staff are government employees, the public perhaps has a right to voice concerns about the public utility of the Academia Sinica, whatever its academic credentials and quality of research.

When challenged about its value to the Taiwanese taxpayer, the Academica Sinica usually reminds the public of its past research accomplishments and its dynamic future role, concrete evidence of which can be found in several newly established research institutes.

When it comes to past achievements, the most senior institute in the Humanities and Social Science division—the Institute of History and Philology—is often cited. It was established in the same year as the Academia Sinica (1928). Early collective projects such as the An-Yang excavation, the study of Chinese dialects, and the reconstruction of ancient histories gained international fame for the institute. The institute is also engaged in the systematic compilation and organization of valuable Chinese historical documents, which contributes enormously to the field of Sinology and further enhances its academic status.

Far from resting on the academic achievements of the past, the Academia Sinica is constantly trying to stay on the cutting edge of research, as can be seen by the recently established institutes. In the division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (1993) and the Institute of Applied Science and Engineering Research (1999) are the two latest research institutes. The separation between pure and applied science, especially in the life sciences, is obviously not applicable any more. Within the division of Humanities, the Institute of Taiwan History (1993) and the Institute of Linguistics (1997) were formed after drastic social changes had taken place in Taiwan. The Taiwan History institute is in the forefront of indigenous research in Taiwan and it has become the focal coordinating agency for Taiwan studies.

In short, Taiwan’s Academia Sinica is a government-sponsored research institute. With funding available from the regular budget, academic research has been its main prescribed task. The highly trained research staff represents the research elite in Taiwan and has full liberty in deciding on individual projects. In recent years, the Academia Sinica has made a conscious effort to promote major interdisciplinary research programs both in fulfillment of its leadership role in the Taiwanese academies and as a response to changing societal expectations. A review of recent developments within the Academia Sinica reveals its intention to gain a greater global profile on the basis of its academic performance and generous research resources.

2. Research Academies In Mainland China

2.1 The Chinese Academy Of Sciences

The Chinese Academy of Sciences was founded in 1949, the same year in which the Academia Sinica moved to Taiwan. With basic research as its main task, this academy has perhaps the largest organization of any institution of its type in the world. Besides the headquarters in Beijing, 22 branches made up of no fewer than 121 research institutes are scattered all over the country. Among five academic divisions (Mathematics and Physics, Chemistry, Biological Science, Earth Science, Technological Science), more than 40,000 scientists and technical professionals work for the Academy. Among them, nearly 10,000 are regarded as basic research staff, and 230 members of the Academy (out of the current 584 members who are elected as the most preeminent scientists in mainland China) also actively engage in research at the Academy. Members of the Academy enjoy the highest academic prestige. They play a planning and consulting role in China’s scientific and technological development as well as providing reports and suggestions regarding important research issues.

A review of the general research orientation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences reveals at least two important characteristics which may differentiate it from the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. First, basic research with highly applied values was a major priority of the Academy from the beginning. High- tech research and development centers are growing rapidly and the support staff composed of well-trained professionals has become a major facilitating force. Second, collaboration with industrial sectors and with foreign institutes has contributed to the Academy’s research resources. The cooperative relationship has been substantial and extensive in that more than 3,000 enterprises have joined the industry–education– research development program. The international exchange program involves 7,000 personnel annually. This program has benefited both the research staff and the postgraduates of the Academy and fulfilled an important training function: more than 14,000 staff and graduate students have received advanced training abroad since 1978 and over 8,000 have completed their studies and returned to the Academy.

2.2 The Chinese Academy Of Social Sciences

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was formally established in 1977 from the former Philosophy and Social Sciences division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The central headquarters in Beijing is made up of 14 research institutes employing 2,200 staff. Among these centralized institutes are Economics, Archeology, History, Law, and Ethnology. As is the case with the Academy of Sciences, there are many branch institutes throughout China so that the staff complement totals 4,200 in 31 research institutes.

According to much of the publicity material on the Academy of Social Sciences, the needs of the country appear to be of the utmost importance in the selection of research projects. The material and spiritual development and the democratization of the nation are constantly cited as basic motives to conduct relevant studies. This bias probably owes more to the fact that funding is from central government than to any policy implications. For example, the national philosophy and social sciences committee has organized several selected research topics every five years, such as the study of changes among rural families under the economic reform coordinated by Beijing University during the 7th national Five-year Plan. A substantial proportion of research undertaken by the Academy of Social Sciences consists of special commissions of this sort.

Because the availability of funding is the key to the commencement of any research, there is a substantial reliance on foreign funding. Funding from foreign foundations is usually generous enough to greatly enhance the possibility of conducting extensive studies across different regions of the nation. But collaboration with foreign institutes, especially in social science surveys, tends to be limited to data collection. Highly quality academic written manuscript from the collaborative project in Academy of Social Sciences is relatively inadequate and waits to be promoted in the future.

As in the Academy of Sciences, there is a longstanding international academic exchange program in the Academy of Social Sciences. More than 4,100 research staff and graduate students have participated in this program since 1978 and positive outcomes are revealed in new research projects as well as publications. The 82 academic journals published by the Academy cover various disciplines such as sociology, law, history, literature, world economics, etc.

3. Research Academies In Japan

There are basically two lines of research institutions in Japan: one under the Ministry of Education and the other under the Science and Technology agencies. University-affiliated research institutes, as well as independent national research institutes with graduate schools, come under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Education. As of 1997, among 587 Japanese universities, 62 had affiliated research institutes of which 20 were open to all researchers in Japan. There are also 14 independent research institutes in Japan, unaffiliated with any university, carrying out major academic research projects. These so-called interuniversity research institutes are set up because of a specific demand to undertake academic research that requires resources and manpower beyond the university boundary. The National Laboratory for High Energy Physics was the first of this kind to be established (1971). The famous National Museum of Ethnology (1974) and the National Institute of Multimedia Education (1997), which aim at scientific research, data collection, and curricula development, have a substantial research complement of their own and are staffed by visiting scholars from abroad as well as local ones. The actual contribution of the interuniversity research institutes lies in the nature of basic research. Large-scale facilities and data resources as well as human resources seconded from universities throughout Japan are considered important mechanisms in enhancing the progress of scientific research in Japan.

Other national research institutes, mostly concerned with natural sciences but also including social sciences (such as the noted National Institute of Population and Social Security Research and Economic Research Institute), fall into the domain of Science and Technology agencies. The population and social security research institute was founded in 1996 by combining two government research organizations: the Institute of Population Problems and the Social Development Research Institute. It is now affiliated with the Ministry of Health and Welfare. A research staff of 45 is located in seven research departments. Although policy-oriented research comprises a major proportion of the institute’s work and is self-defined by the staff, academic research is still encouraged through both institutional and individual efforts. Surveys concerning population and social security are carried out to produce primary and secondary data for policy formulation. At the same time, these data also give rise to future academic studies on social and economic issues.

There is also a national advisory board on the scientific development of Japan. The Science Council of Japan, attached to the Prime Minister’s office, was established in 1949. Unlike the Japan Academy or academicians and academy members in Taiwan and mainland China, the 210 distinguished scientists from all fields who sit on the board are not given honorary lifetime titles but serve three-year terms of office. The council enjoys great academic prestige and represents Japanese scientists domestically as well as internationally. The council has the right to advise the government to initiate important scientific research programs, and the government may seek professional recommendations from the council as well. The council is also actively engaged in bilateral scientific exchanges and other forms of international participation. The council is also expected to coordinate academic research in Japan and facilitate the implementation of important decisions concerning academic development in Japan.

With a few exceptions, such as the Nihon University Population Research Institute, most academies in Japan are national. But the restrictions stemming from their organizational structure (they come under the jurisdiction of various government ministries) may translate into less research freedom or a higher demand for policy-oriented studies. In addition, those academies or research institutes affiliated with universities are usually also expected to carry out teaching functions at the individual researcher’s level.

4. Conclusion

This research paper has briefly outlined the national character of research organizations in Taiwan, mainland China, and Japan. The importance of the government’s role in academic development in this region can be clearly observed. The private sector, in contrast, plays only a minor role, if any, in academic research. However, several differences may be distinguished among the three territories. Taiwan’s Academia Sinica is perhaps foremost in terms of both research autonomy and social services research. Benefiting from the cultural tradition and the expectations of the society in which it functions, researchers there also appear to enjoy more resources in funding and in social prestige. The motivation for research can be stated in purely academic terms and no policy orientation is required in order to receive adequate funding. In addition, Taiwanese scholars have shown a stronger preference for individual research projects. Mainland China, in comparison, launched its modern social science sector in the late 1970s, a time when a few basic disciplines such as sociology were still under suspicion. That contextual factor has certainly introduced an added element to the Chinese academy—the importance of correct political attitudes. As a consequence, research aims are required to be framed within the mainstream ideology and group efforts are more likely to be observed. Japan has a different tradition regarding academies. Although research autonomy is encouraged and political factors are not necessarily emphasized, research still tends to be applied in nature. This is largely because of structural factors, in that most academies are affiliated with various government ministries or with research institutes that are concerned with policy formulation and teaching as well as pure research. Also, Japanese social scientists are more inclined to participate in group projects headed by a leader in the field. Whether this is consistent with the national character remains to be explored.

With the relatively positive outlook for economic growth in the near future, the academies in Taiwan, mainland China, and Japan may experience substantial concomitant development and may thus reach new horizons in certain research fields. Nevertheless, academic collaboration within the region itself is still comparatively rare and may be a focus in the future agenda. Hopefully, a unique Asian perspective may be developed from persistent and extensive social science studies in these areas.


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