Where to Locate Taiwan? Chinese Co-Authors Disagree

Collaborations between scientists on Taiwan and the Chinese mainland have been steadily increasing for the past decade, reflecting the gradual rapprochement between the two governments. But a bit of Cold War rhetoric is chilling at least one project—over the question of how to identify a Taiwanese institution in a co-authored paper.

In the past, scientists on both sides have tried to avoid political issues by locating such institutions as simply being in "Taiwan," dropping "Republic of China." Mainland collaborators have reciprocated, giving their location as "China," omitting "People's Republic." Now, a mainland researcher, neurobiologist Yi Rao of Peking University, is insisting that co-authors identify their university as being located in "Taiwan, China," even asking Taiwanese scientific authorities to endorse that format.

The collaboration between Rao's group and a team led by neurobiologist Ann-Shyn Chiang of National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, started with back-and-forth visits and exchanges of ideas. Recently, one of Chiang's students assisted Rao's team in experiments aimed at understanding the role of a biomolecule known as octopamine in the Drosophila brain. Rao drafted a paper including Chiang and the student as co-authors but with National Tsing Hua University located in "Taiwan, China." "It was unexpected," Chiang says, explaining that Taiwan's National Science Council allows those it funds to give their address as Taiwan or Taiwan ROC. "From a simple scientific point of view, [the rule] is reasonable," Chiang says.

Rao disagrees. So earlier this week, without consulting Chiang, he wrote to physicist Lou-Chuang Lee, minister of Taiwan's National Science Council, and copied, among others, Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science. In his e-mail, Rao noted that his group was willing to drop PRC from their address and use Beijing, China; he suggested that the National Science Council change its policy. "When there are collaborations between scientists across the Taiwan Strait, it seems to be a very good compromise for both sides to leave out [RO or PR], but leave China in the address," Rao wrote.

In a separate e-mail to ScienceInsider, Rao explained: "On the mainland 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 went on to warn that if Taiwan's National Science Council cannot change the rule, it would make it "extremely difficult for mainland Chinese scientists to co-author papers explicitly or implicitly endorsing a Taiwan that is not a part of China."

Rao appears to be altering what has been standard practice since the late 1990s. One of the first institutional-level cross-strait collaborations brought together researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences's Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing and Academia Sinica's Institute of Physics in Taipei. "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 Tsz-king Wong, who heads the collaboration for Taiwan.

Responding to an inquiry from ScienceInsider, Cheng-Hong Chen, deputy minister of Taiwan's National Science Council wrote in an e-mail that their address format requirement has not hindered collaborations, with the number of papers with co-authors from China and Taiwan growing from 1035 in 2009 to 1207 in 2010. And a quick search on Google Scholar turned up hundred of papers co-authored by Peking University researchers and their Taiwanese counterparts for which the addresses given for the institutions were "Taipei, Taiwan" and "Beijing, China."

Chiang says he simply wants to concentrate on research. "Personally, I believe that China and Taiwan are heading [in] a friendly direction. With more patience, I hope we can all contribute to promoting scientific collaborations between the two sides," he says.

Update 16 August: Yi Rao informed ScienceInsider on Monday that he and his colleagues in Taiwan, including group leader Ann-Shyn Chiang of the National Tsing Hua University, have agreed that the address for Chiang's group on their joint paper will be “Hsinchu, Taiwan, Republic of China,” while Rao's group will use the address “Beijing, People’s Republic of China.”