Bold Ambition: International Large-Scale Science

From the President of the American Academy

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

Some research questions are simply too large to be addressed by one nation’s scientists or facilities alone. How can we rapidly identify and mitigate the spread of emerging infectious diseases, which can arise in all regions of the world? Can we harness fusion to produce a carbon-free source of energy at a large scale as climate change threatens the health and well-being of the planet, including its people? What are the physical principles that underlie matter itself?

Science powers economies, discovers cures and therapies, unlocks the mysteries of the universe, and, at its best, has the potential to build a more prosperous and peaceful future for the planet and generations to come. As the United States reengages with the global community under a new presidential administration, a commitment to large-scale scientific ventures is necessary, timely, and an imperative for a United States that wishes to perform cutting-edge experiments with world-class collaborators. Beyond the research opportunities, sustained commitment to international scientific partners, allies and adversaries alike, is essential for the promotion of openness, trust, and diplomacy.

The United States must establish long-term funding and management mechanisms for engagement and support of large-scale initiatives with international partners. These projects require years, and in some cases decades, of project planning and implementation. Without long-term vision and support, the United States will be ill-equipped both to drive and to capitalize on global scientific advancements and, potentially, could be isolated from the next generation of advanced facilities. Bold Ambition: International Large-Scale Science, the second report of the American Academy’s Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships (CISP) initiative, lays out the importance of international large-scale science, across disciplines, and identifies best practices to mitigate challenges that commonly arise in them. I hope that its findings will be carefully considered by the American policy-making community and implemented in the years to come.

This report joins America and the International Future of Science, a report from the CISP initiative published in 2020, in analysis of the challenges and benefits of American participation in international scientific partnerships. It will be followed by a third and final report, Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners, which will examine mechanisms for strengthening and making more equitable collaborations with countries working to build their R&D enterprises. The project, established in 2017 under the initiative of then-Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton, is identifying mechanisms by which the United States could become a better partner in such collaborations. It has been a pleasure to continue this important work during my tenure as Academy President.

In this effort, the Academy would like to extend its sincere gratitude to CISP Cochairs Arthur Bienenstock, Professor Emeritus of Photon Science, Special Assistant to the President for Federal Research Policy, and Associate Director of the Wallenberg Research Link at Stanford University, and Peter Michelson, Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Professor of Physics, and Senior Associate Dean for the Natural Sciences at Stanford University. In addition to their service as CISP Cochairs, Professors Bienenstock and Michelson have provided essential wisdom as Cochairs of the project working group on Large-Scale Science.

The leadership and guidance from the CISP Steering Committee and working group on Large-Scale Science were invaluable for the development of this report, especially identifying the principles for large-scale science and the value of international large-scale science across scientific disciplines (see Appendix B). I am grateful to the Academy’s Board of Directors, Council, and Trust for their support of the development of this initiative, along with the contributions of many Academy Fellows. I thank representatives of the large-scale science community, including scientists, agency leaders, policy-makers, facility managers, and others, who provided insight for the development of the principles proposed in this report. The Alfred P. Sloan, William and Flora Hewlett, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations provided key financial support of this initiative, for which we are sincerely appreciative.

I would also like to thank the Academy staff who helped to prepare this report: Amanda Vernon, Rebecca Tiernan, Islam Qasem, Tania Munz, John Randell, Gregory Savageau, Phyllis Bendell, Heather Struntz, Peter Walton, and Scott Raymond.

I join with all of those who worked to identify and prepare the findings in this report to call for its uptake by America’s scientific and policy leaders. The future of international large-scale science is bright indeed, and our country must fully participate in its endeavors.

David W. Oxtoby
President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences