Whether it is the payment of bribes by high-flying businessmen, the embezzlement of funds by bank workers, or rural officials charging farmers illicit fees, the breathtaking scale of the mainland's problem with corruption is there for all to see. But the extent to which it is pervading sectors of society that have traditionally been held in high esteem was underlined at an annual meeting of top scientists in Shenyang yesterday. Speaking at the prestigious meeting, a renowned biochemist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences warned that the reputation of the whole scientific community on the mainland was under threat as a result of greed, dishonesty and blatant breaches of ethics. The misdeeds he highlighted are certainly not unique to the mainland, but their prevalence is destroying public faith in scholars and researchers, who were once revered. And the questions it raises are ones that all professions on the mainland must face. The misconduct mentioned by the scientist ranged from plagiarism and the falsifying of one's educational background to bogus claims in misleading advertisements. An advertising ban was suggested as a way of tackling part of the problem. And the scientist called for those found to have breached the ethics of the profession to be punished, or dismissed. While such measures would go some way towards helping curb the problem, implementing them will be difficult. The long-term answer lies in encouraging professions to monitor their own members, setting high standards and ensuring they are met. In other parts of the world, including Hong Kong, the norm is for each profession to be given the responsibility for strictly supervising its members. Those who fail to abide by the profession's code of practice face severe disciplinary measures. This leads to a strong sense of professional pride and an awareness of the importance of abiding by the highest ethical standards. In turn, it helps win the respect and trust of the public. On the mainland, where professional bodies do not have the independence granted to their counterparts elsewhere, this is not so easy to achieve. But progress is gradually being made. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has set standards intended to curb corruption and supervises them itself. Similarly, the Chinese Academy of Engineering has started receiving complaints from the public concerning alleged misconduct by its members. Such initiatives are to be encouraged, although their success will depend on ensuring the rules are understood by all and that the disciplinary system is fair. Sharp practices in the academic sphere are a symptom of the much bigger corruption problem facing the mainland. But cleaning up the professions is essential if they are to set a good example to the rest of the population.