In the News

The U.S. and International Science

Terry Magnuson
UNC Research

Although international collaborations present significant research opportunities, challenges face U.S.-based institutions working across national borders. Enhancing international collaboration requires recognition of differences in culture, legitimate national security needs, and critical needs in education and training. To address these matters, in 2011 the National Academies held the Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration workshop. They concluded that the globalization of science, engineering, and medical research is proceeding rapidly.

In 2019, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which represents 30 U.S. scientific societies, reaffirmed the importance that international collaborations have on discovery and innovation. Such collaborations play critical roles in biological research, ranging from deciphering the human genome to stemming the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, Zika, and now COVID-19. FASEB emphasized the delicate balance between fostering an environment of open scientific collaboration while protecting U.S. investments and discoveries. Policies that confirm appropriate utilization of critical resources and discoveries are needed to ensure continued engagement of international scholars in U.S. research endeavors.

Most recently, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences undertook an initiative called the Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships (CISP) to assess the importance and the complexities of international scientific collaborations. In their report “America and the International Future of Science,”  the Academy highlighted the importance of worldwide science by quoting President Harry Truman: “When more of the peoples of the world have learned the ways of thought of the scientist, we shall have better reason to expect lasting peace and a fuller life for all.”

The CISP initiative outlined several recommendations to address the challenges of international scientific collaboration:

  • Any restrictions on international collaborations involving federally supported research should be well-justified and carefully/narrowly defined. Large-scale scientific endeavors are an important component of our nation’s overall science and technology enterprise. The United States must be prepared to contribute support for operations outside the United States. Scientific talent arises across the globe at an increasing rate as many countries invest in building a more robust science and technology enterprise.
  • Many of the most pressing scientific questions are not defined by national boundaries and require global collaboration for advancement. Both fundamental questions and those related to broad societal problems frequently involve people with different capabilities, perspectives, and access to resources. Forming teams with the best skills to address a research challenge increasingly draws on international collaborators.
  • To maintain leadership in fundamental research, it is essential that the United States continues to have an academic education and research system that is open, strong, and attractive and welcoming to international students. In 1960, federal funding represented 45% of all global R&D, while today it accounts for less than 10%. Our country should examine investing in R&D and approving policies that facilitate, support, and foster its scientists in collaborating internationally.
  • The United States must engage with the broader scientific community if America is to be among the world leaders across all scientific fields. Scientific partnerships are an important element of foreign policy and international relationships and necessitates cooperation.
  • The United States must look not only to those nations that are presently strong, but also to those that are emerging, as scientific partners. Without support and commitment to collaboration from the U.S. government, U.S. scientists may be excluded from some of the world’s leading scientific projects and associated technological advances, especially as multinational funders promote increasingly large international projects.
  • Most importantly, the United States must be engaged in the development of global ethical frameworks for research. As discoveries and technological capacities increase, ethical questions are becoming more complex.

The scientific community certainly understands the benefits of international scientific collaboration. However, risks of such collaboration to U.S. national security are now at the forefront of debate. Those risks must be acknowledged along with the benefits from scientific collaboration with countries that are potential adversaries.

View full story: UNC Research



Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

Arthur I. Bienenstock and Peter F. Michelson