Principles for International Large-Scale ScienceBack to table of contents
Initiation of, or participation in, international large-scale science has associated complexities not faced by other research efforts that do not require large-scale instrumentation, multiple international partners, or vast data collections. The CISP Large-Scale Science working group examined many examples of successful and not-successful large-scale science partnerships and held several workshops and consultations with government funding agencies to identify guiding principles for the formation and organization of international large-scale science partnerships to ensure their appropriateness and success.
International large-scale science can involve multiple approaches, scores of countries, thousands of scientists, and billions of dollars. Marshaling these forces to make significant scientific gains requires vision, organization, and management. These efforts are more likely to succeed when collaborator relationships are built on mutual trust and respect and significant attention is paid in the earliest phases to planning, governance, operations, and sustainability.
The following principles are recommendations for U.S. participation in successful large-scale international collaborations, across scientific disciplines and project goals.
Prioritize Scientific Excellence and Impact
Principle 1.1: Participation in large-scale science by the United States must be driven by the quality of the science and the potential for significant scientific benefit, as determined by the relevant U.S. and international scientific communities. Projects may also have diplomatic or economic justifications, but without sound scientific basis, they are more likely to fail.
Support of the scientific community may manifest in different ways depending on the project and field. For large networks of scientists working toward shared goals, grassroots engagement may provide evidence of enthusiasm. For projects that require upfront and long-term substantial investments from the U.S. government, as is frequently the case for large-scale facilities, decadal surveys or specially constituted advisory committees composed of scientists in the relevant field can serve as an indication of support for a given venture.
The U.S. research funding agencies have well-established procedures for determining the scientific justification and community support for large-scale domestic projects. Often, but not necessarily, these include assessments by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It is equally important that similar procedures be adapted and employed for consideration of large-scale international projects, especially projects aimed at capacity-building in emerging scientific regions. When research objectives or funding involve multiple U.S. research funding agencies, a clear, transparent interagency decision-making process is needed.
Some international large-scale scientific projects have political and/or economic drivers in addition to scientific benefits at the outset. These may include strengthening international relations, as in the case of the International Space Station and ITER; bringing economic benefit, as in the case of EU Flagship programs; or increasing the research capacity for the development of emerging science partners.115 If these goals rise to the level of becoming primary drivers of the collaboration, project management and sustainability are likely to become more challenging and complex. Even if these factors are present and emphasized, the United States must still anticipate meaningful scientific benefit as a prerequisite of the project.
Finally, the project must have a strong and diverse scientific leadership team (see Principle 2.1).
- 115For more discussion of the role of capacity-building in scientific research, see American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners (Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Science, forthcoming 2021).
Develop Well-Defined Project Scope and Effective Management
Principle 2.1: Strong scientific leadership is required, both in executive offices and in oversight, such as on government councils, boards, and review committees.
Principle 2.2: A project’s formulation phase should receive sufficient resources and be of sufficient length for partner relationships to be established and for partners to develop a detailed implementation plan that includes project scope, budget and schedule, an assessment of risks, a management plan including risk management, and, as appropriate, an understanding among the partners about decommissioning at the conclusion of a project.
Openness among international partners is recognized as the best approach to developing a successful project and is best established during project formulation. There should be a recognition that problems are inevitable and should not be hidden. Problems and their resolution are a normal part of a project. All partners should own the problems, and all partners should share the successes.
Diversity, broadly, is a key component of strong scientific leadership (see Principle 1.1). Specific considerations in international large-scale science collaborations include nationality, scientific discipline, academic or private sector background, relative seniority, gender, and race.
Principle 2.3: The scientific objectives, technical readiness, and managerial competence of the project must be formally and thoroughly assessed. The partners and their national sponsors should agree on the project goals. Project budgets and schedules should be systematically developed and reviewed. There should be agreement on the way each nation is to support the project. Project management and capability to carry the project out must be included in this assessment. Regular independent management and project reviews must be scheduled and implemented as the project proceeds.
Agreement by all international participants on the goals and parameters of a project is crucial for the project to succeed. Mechanisms for reaching decisions, if it is appropriate to modify these goals and/or parameters with new information, should be agreed upon beforehand. Such mechanisms are particularly important when major challenges arise in projects, as they almost inevitably do.
For large-scale physical facilities, it is vital that the entire project, as well as U.S. major in-kind component developments, are subject to careful reviews, such as those carried out by the DOE Office of Science, on a regular basis. Such reviews can often identify problems at a sufficiently early stage to remedy them effectively.116
When projects require sequential phases of construction and operation, as in the case of facilities, success in each of these phases may in turn require distinct approaches, including a different management structure, new personnel, and evolving budget and task responsibilities.
Project partners should agree in advance on whether intellectual property (IP) protection will be necessary. Collaborators should build a framework under which inventions will be disclosed and patents will be filed, including a clear framework of how IP will be owned and how disputes will be resolved.
Principle 2.4: Collaborators must identify appropriate governance and project management models for achieving their scientific goals. A transparent approach, discussed and ratified at the earliest stages of the collaboration, is essential.
There are many models for addressing leadership and governance in international scientific partnerships and for dealing with crises or major problems, should they occur. Addressing these considerations early, ideally during project formulation, can help minimize later project risks and avoid confusion.
ITER is one project example in which inadequate management and organizational structure, along with prioritizing diplomatic justifications above scientific rationale, led to significant cost increases, delays, and risk of cancellation (see ITER and the Challenging Road to Fusion Power). It also serves as an example of how improvements in management restored public trust in the project and renewed scientific progress.
As collaborative governance structures frequently lack clear organization and hierarchies and work across time zones and physical locations, consistent operations and efficiency can be challenging. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, as there is variation in the objectives and governance structures across international collaborations. As with other challenges that confront international science partnerships, organization and general operating principles should be discussed early on and reviewed regularly to ensure that the entire team is well-informed. Procedures for approval of scope changes should be included in the basic agreements.
Modifications in governance need to be transparent and communication procedures clearly established.
ITER is a project to build the largest tokamak, or magnetic fusion device, in the world.117 It is a collaboration of thirty-five countries, including the United States, sited in southern France. Its goal is to advance fusion science, to contribute to the development of fusion power plants, and to act as the first fusion device to produce net-positive energy.118 Cost of the construction of the instrumentation is estimated to be as high as $65 billion, according to the DOE, though the ITER organization estimates the cost to be closer to $22 billion.119 Costs are shared across the members of the ITER organization, with the European Union covering 45 percent of the construction costs and the remaining members—China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States—contributing 9 percent of the costs each.120 Originally scheduled for completion in 2016, the most recent estimate for its full deuterium-tritium operation is 2034–2038.121
In the summer of 2013, ITER requested its regular internal audit, which is required every two years.122 This audit found deep structural issues within ITER, including the inability of the ITER organization to successfully manage each member’s domestic agency, units created within the ITER structure with their own budgets and staff. Decision-making capabilities were constrained under this format due to the underlying governance structure pitting political interests of domestic agencies against the overarching ITER council.123 This review was quite critical of the ITER project and led to immediate reform discussions within the collaboration.124
In late 2014, ITER nominated a new director-general, Bernard Bigot, who committed to reforming management and governance structures and developed a more realistic, science-based schedule, reducing political influence. This shift has delivered on its promises, leading to restored support from the European Union and other nations, including cash contributions from the United States.125 In July 2019, ITER installed its cryostat base and lower cylinder, a major construction milestone that brought the project to 65 percent completion.126
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor construction site for its experimental tokamak, a magnetic plasma confinement device intended to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion power, in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, France. Photo by Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images.
- 117ITER, “What is ITER?”
- 119David Kramer, “ITER Disputes DOE’s Cost Estimate of Fusion Project,” Physics Today, April 16, 2018.
- 120ITER, “ITER Members.”
- 121ITER, “What is ITER?”; and Daniel Clery, “New Review Slams Fusion Project’s Management,” Science 343 (6174) (2014): 957–958; and U.S. Department of Energy, Fusion Energy Sciences, “FY 2020 Congressional Budget Justification.”
- 122Raffi Khatchadourian, “How to Fix ITER,” The New Yorker, February 28, 2014.
- 123Madia and Associates, LLC, “2013 ITER Management Assessment,” October 18, 2013; and Clery, “New Review Slams Fusion Project’s Management.”
- 124Declan Butler, “ITER’s New Chief Will Shake Up Troubled Fusion Reactor,” Nature, November 21, 2014.
- 125Henry Fountain, “A Dream of Clean Energy at a Very High Price,” The New York Times, March 27, 2017; and Bernard Bigot, “Statement of Bernard Bigot, Director-General ITER, International Fusion Energy Organization, before the Subcommittee on Energy, Committee on Science, Space and Technology, U.S House of Representatives, The ITER Project: Moving Forward, April 20, 2016,” U.S. House of Representatives, April 20, 2016.
- 126Nathanial Gronewold, “World’s Largest Nuclear Fusion Experiment Clears Milestone,” Scientific American, July 24, 2019.
Principle 3.1: Once the United States, through its agency and interagency review processes, has committed to a project, the Congress, U.S. agencies, and the White House Office of Management and Budget should bolster mechanisms to ensure that the United States can meet its financial commitments.
While this is sometimes very hard to do, it is important to have a clear, documented decision process to refer back to, should difficulties arise.
Principle 3.2: The United States should be open to participating in international large-scale science projects based outside of the United States and ensure that funding commitments for the U.S. contribution to the project are honored. Given the realities of annual appropriations, U.S. agencies considering participation in large-scale international projects should weigh at least two options:
- Full membership participation, similar to U.S. participation in ITER.
- A substantial but limited and well-defined commitment that is highly likely to be met even under budget uncertainties. Examples are the DOE’s and the NSF’s commitments to CERN (see Appendix A).
Option 1 provides the agency with a direct role in the governance of the project, but with the danger that the United States may not meet its commitments. Option 2 may only assure an indirect governance role.
Principle 3.3: Procedures should be in place to ensure continuity of project leadership, stakeholder engagement, and risk management. Further, scientific and political leadership teams need to work in tandem to ensure goal alignment.
Successful initiation and maintenance of international scientific collaborations require long-term, steady financial commitments. Further, once made, it is essential for these commitments to be upheld, both for the realization of the individual collaboration in question and for building and maintaining trust that the United States will remain a reliable partner.
Both new and long-standing international collaborations, depending on scale, can be challenging for the United States to fund, although projects that are a high priority for the scientific community and its related funding agency partners are more likely to continue to be built into federal budgets. The U.S. budget is developed and approved by the president and Congress on an annual basis, but for decades, this process has not been completed in a timely fashion, and Congress has maintained funding through continuing resolutions, which may or may not be consistent with previous commitments. Further, leadership changes on congressional committees and at scientific agencies and offices such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the OMB, both across and within presidential administrations, can reverse funding directions if the project does not have strong political support and is not prioritized by the scientific community.
While the United States can join a long-term international collaboration and discuss long-term funding, it is usually unable to guarantee that funding beyond one year. The budgets for science funding agencies fluctuate with each annual appropriations cycle, affecting the resources available for international programs and complicating participation in international large-scale science. One exception, likely related to geopolitical considerations, is the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, which is endowed. Several nations use multiyear funding plans, including the European Union and China, but even then, aligning various national funding schedules with a project budget can be very challenging.
The International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM) is a prime example of the potential pitfalls of annual appropriations: uncertainty in U.S. funding led to a project breakdown between NASA and European partners that required a descope of the mission for the collaboration to continue (see The International Solar Polar Mission).
The International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM), a collaboration between the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), was a two-satellite mission designed between 1974 and 1979 to study the Sun’s poles. NASA and the ESA each committed to providing a satellite and instruments and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 1979 for a planned launch in 1983.127
In contrast to the ESA funding, NASA’s ISPM budgetary requests, a total of $250 million, encountered significant obstacles. In 1980, the planned ISPM launch was pushed back from 1983 to 1985 due to budget cuts to NASA, which not only delayed the launch but also decreased the payload capability of the launch by 40 kilograms.128 In 1982, the overall NASA science budget was cut from $757.7 million to $584.2 million, a gap that forced NASA to choose between funding ISPM or the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Hubble Space Telescope. In response, NASA canceled its ISPM spacecraft, which further delayed the launch of the ESA satellite.129
The ESA argued that the United States had breached its MOU and generally expressed frustration, which then pressured U.S. offices including the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy to recommend making funding available for a reduced mission.130 This did not occur, and the project proceeded with the ESA providing instruments and a single spacecraft it renamed Ulysses in 1982.131 NASA provided a radioisotope thermoelectric power generator for the spacecraft and tracking after launch with the Deep Space Network. The spacecraft was launched by NASA from the Space Shuttle Discovery cargo bay and carried out a successful eighteen-year mission as the first exploration of space above and below the Sun’s poles.132
An artist’s impression of the Ulysses spacecraft at Jupiter. Ulysses used Jupiter’s powerful gravity to hurl it out of the Plane of the Ecliptic (where most planets and satellites orbit) so it could study the polar regions of the Sun. Image courtesy of ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech.
- 127U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, International Partnerships in Large Science Projects (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995).
- 128R. B. Miller, “International Solar Polar Mission Support,” The Telecommunications and Data Acquisition Report (Washington, D.C.: NASA, 1990).
- 129U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, International Partnerships in Large Science Projects.
- 132NASA, Solar System Exploration, “Ulysses.”
When political support for international scientific partnerships decreases, particularly in the context of strained bilateral international relationships, they can be difficult to sustain. A lack or change of political support may manifest in a variety of ways, such as decreasing or cutting off funding, maintaining a funding rate below that of peer nations, and restricting collaborations between U.S. researchers and researchers in other countries.133
Other politically charged obstacles to international cooperation include increased difficulty obtaining visas, export/import issues, sanctions, and onerous regulations. In addition, domestic politics can affect international research efforts, as partisan politics may target activities supported by political opponents for ideological reasons. Although many scientists consider their research endeavors to be distinct from political interests, international scientific collaborations are not conducted in a political vacuum, and while they can be used to strengthen international relations, they can also become victims of political priorities. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) has served as one institution that allows collaboration to continue even in cases where political support wanes (see Institutional Independence and IIASA).
As geopolitical circumstances evolve, political support for certain forms of international collaboration can ebb and flow. This fluctuation presents a challenge for sustaining long-term scientific partnerships that require national data, funding contributions, and strong peer-to-peer relationships. It is important for scientific partnerships to persevere in the face of these political challenges, especially when international relationships are strained.
Technical and project management strain can pose severe threats to large-scale scientific undertakings, and difficulties can arise at any point in the collaboration, from project design through construction and ongoing management. Any of these challenges can result in questions about ongoing funding. Risk assessment, a risk management plan, and, in some cases, project descoping plans are essential for addressing and mitigating project challenges.134
Trust among partners and transparency should be established early in a project’s lifecycle. Interdependence of all scientific partners is key for successful project continuance, and it is important to have agreement among partners on how risks will be managed, how project reviews are to be conducted, and how technical problems will be addressed. All problems, alongside all successes, belong to all partners.
- 133Sara Reardon, “How the Latest U.S. Travel Ban Could Affect Science,” Scientific American, September 28, 2017.
- 134Martin S. Feather, Steven L. Cornford, and Kenneth A. Hicks, “Descoping,” Proceedings of the 27th NASA Goddard/IEEE Software Engineering Workshop, Greenbelt Maryland, December 5–6, 2002 (Los Alamitos, Calif.: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2003).
Ethics, Culture, and Values: Establish Ethical Standards for the Conduct of Research
Principle 4.1: Codes of conduct are essential and need to be developed jointly by partners, not prescribed. To be successful, ethical codes need shared buy-in and collaborative development by the scientists and scientific institutions involved, including scientists and scientific institutions representative of partners from all nations involved. This is especially true when there are issues of trust, such as strained geopolitical relations or between developed and developing nations.135 Project leadership must take an active role in cultivating ethical norms and standards through transparent and open dialogue.
Principle 4.2: Social scientists and ethicists should be included in the earliest stages of developing an ethical code for collaboration. Relevant stakeholders need to be engaged in this development as well; these groups may include the interested public, local and regional governments, and related organizations.
- 135Nina Morris, “Providing Ethical Guidance for Collaborative Research in Developing Countries,” Research Ethics 11 (4) (2015): 211–235; and John Tomlinson, Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction (London: Continuum, 2002).
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), housed near Vienna, Austria, conducts multidisciplinary, systems-analysis research on policy-relevant topics such as climate change, aging, development, and energy. The United States and the Soviet Union, along with ten other states, including East and West Germany, founded IIASA in 1972 to promote nongovernmental, independent research that would build diplomatic bridges during the Cold War.136 Today, IIASA has twenty-three national member organizations that sponsor research activities.137 The United States participates in IIASA through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), and its membership is funded by the NSF.138
IIASA’s institutional independence allows scientists from states that do not formally recognize each other or are locked in adversarial relationships to work together, as seen perhaps most dramatically between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Although the United States formally cut off funding to IIASA for several years in the 1980s, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences acted as the U.S. member and, along with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, worked to provide funds from private sources until the U.S. Congress allocated funds once more.139 The American Academy remained the U.S. committee sponsor for IIASA until 2003, when NASEM retook the role.140
During the 1980s, an IIASA research team conducted a study on water pollution that is still used by water policy-makers today in the United States, the former USSR, and Japan.141 IIASA’s impact has spread to other research endeavors, serving as an example in the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.142
The 30th Scientific Committee Meeting of the International Geosphere-Biosphere, titled “Integrated Science for Sustainable Transitions,” in Laxenburg, Austria, April 2015. Photo © by Matthias Silveri/IIASA.
- 136Jan Marco Müller and Maurizio Bona, “Past, Present, and Future of Science Diplomacy in Europe,” Science & Diplomacy, October 2, 2018.
- 137International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “History of IIASA,” edited November 19, 2020.
- 138The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “U.S. National Committee for the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA);” and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “Funding,” edited June 16, 2020.
- 139William D. Carey, “The United States and the IIASA Connection,” Science 233 (4765) (1986): 701.
- 140American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis.”
- 141International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “History of IIASA.”
- 142International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” January 22, 2020; and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “30th Scientific Committee meeting of IGBP, International Symposium and Public Lecture: ‘Integrated Science for Sustainable Transitions,’” April 30, 2015.
Principle 4.3: A written code of conduct, with sign-off from all collaborating parties, should be developed by the project to ensure adherence to the agreed-upon norms.
Building a large, international team of researchers links all partners to each other, and scientific success depends on generating and adhering to ethical codes of conduct. Building and maintaining trust in a “culture of conscience rather than a culture of compliance” is important.143
- 143The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration: Summary of a Workshop (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2011), 33.
Early and respectful discussion of project approaches and shared expectations is essential for establishing a framework accepted by all partners that works to prevent and address issues of misconduct. Such a framework should consider issues of potential bias, exploitation, representation on management teams, career advancement, and equal compensation, among others. It should promote fairness, equity, and trust and establish a process for resolving disagreements. It is important to build these policies from the grassroots of the collaboration so that it is embraced by all participants, regardless of institution, but it is the responsibility of project leadership and senior scientists to ensure that this process is appropriately conducted and structured.
Race- and gender-based misconduct and inequities, including bias, harassment, and violence or the threat of violence, can severely obstruct research goals and can make it so scientists are unable to perform or are hindered in their work.144
Scientists and engineers should consider possible ethical ramifications of their technology developments, including social change, economic change, cultural disruption, systemic bias, and environmental impacts. A primary ethical concern for international collaboration is exploitation, especially in paternalistic relations between countries.145 Careful attention to ethical issues is particularly important for researchers unaccustomed to linking their developments to broader societal implications.
Heightened challenges arise in research contexts involving countries with limited scientific resources, where some U.S. scientists’ activities have been widely recognized as unethical, insensitive, or inappropriate, and have undermined trust in collaborations with U.S. researchers. Taking account of historical forms of colonialism or the presence of xenophobia can also be important when building ethical scientific collaborations. Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa), a genomic research consortium, is one organization working to address such issues as international genomic collaborations evolve (see Generating Research—and Ethical Principles for Research).
Integrity of Results and Data Sharing
Ethical codes of conduct should consider how to ensure integrity of results, including on issues of plagiarism, alignment of scientific goals, and publication and authorship expectations. This is especially important for early-career researchers who frequently depend on these metrics for career advancement.146 Too often, agreements between U.S. scientists and foreign collaborators have few constraints and are established with broad MOUs.147 This may in part be because forming these agreements is viewed as being a burden, inconvenient, and legalistic.148 However, these agreements become increasingly important as projects proceed and results, large data, and potential inventions are generated, especially when ensuring privacy and equity is essential. In developing MOUs, efforts should be made to anticipate and address potential issues, making such agreements effective when they are needed.
Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) is a research consortium that applies genomic technologies to better understand health and disease.149 It consists of more than 500 consortium members and has directly led to 219 publications on studies of samples of over 70,000 participants across the continent.150 The collaboration is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the NIH through its Director’s Common Fund and Global Health Program, and the African Academy of Sciences.151
In addition to funding 51 African-led research projects, the consortium develops ethical guidelines, conducts trainings, and builds scientific infrastructure. H3Africa has been notably invested in generating ethical principles for research from its inception through the creation of a working group on ethics that established governance frameworks.152 At a conference hosted in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2011, a group of bioethicists, scientists, and policy-makers from Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom convened to develop the first plan for ethical genomic research conduct in Africa.153
More recently, in 2018, the H3Africa ethics working group released a set of voluntary guidelines for ethical genomics research based upon conversations with African researchers and ethics review boards.154 Its recommendations are specifically geared toward prevention of so-called helicopter or parachute research, in which foreign scientists take African samples to their home institutions to study and often fail to include African scientists in data analysis and publications. The recommendations encourage inclusion of “meaningful and substantive” African intellectual contributions, minimal removal of samples from the African continent, and the prioritization of research that will benefit African citizens.155 The acceptance and implementation of these recommendations is an ongoing process, however, as capacity-building for African computational facilities continues and some commercialization efforts in the United Kingdom have led to accusations of improper use of samples collected on the African continent.156
New models for population migration patterns were inferred by genetic distance estimates from the H3Africa collaboration. The figure above is a re-creation of an illustration printed in Ananyo Choudhury, Shaun Aron, Laura R. Botigué, et al., “High-Depth African Genomes Inform Human Migration and Health,” Nature 586 (7831) (2020).
- 149H3Africa, https://h3africa.org/.
- 150Ibid.; Nicola Mulder, Alash’le Abimiku, Sally N. Adebamowo, et al., “H3Africa: Current Perspectives,” Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine 11 (2018): 59–66.
- 151H3Africa, “Learn About H3Africa;” and H3Africa, “Funding.”
- 152H3Africa, “Ethics and Governance.”
- 153Clement Adebamowo, “African Researchers Weigh in on Ethics of Genomic Research on African Continent,” National Human Genome Research Institute, February 5, 2014.
- 154“A Welcome Framework for Research in Africa,” Nature, April 18, 2018.
- 155Aminu Yakubu, Paulina Tindana, Alice Matimba, et al., “Model Framework for Governance of Genomic Research and Biobanking in Africa—A Content Description [version 2; peer review: 3 approved],” AAS Open Research, 2018; and Linda Nordling, “African Scientists Call for More Control of Their Continent’s Genomic Data,” Nature, April 18, 2018.
- 156Erik Stokstad, “Major U.K. Genetics Lab Accused of Misusing African DNA,” Science, October 30, 2019.
As “big data” increasingly become the norm across numerous scientific disciplines and collaborations of all scales, consideration of data management upfront becomes paramount. Data management challenges are manifold and vary by research topic.157 In collaborations with researchers in countries with limited data infrastructure, issues of data hosting and processing may be at the forefront. In other cases, personally identifiable information may need to be protected in data collection and analysis. Likewise, there are various international agreements in existence and discussions underway about the handling and ownership of genetic resources and data or research related to military or dual-use technologies.158 Finally, conversion across data analysis processes may require substantial upfront investment.
Privacy concerns are increasingly salient as large data sets are generated, often from human subjects. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a major driver of constraints on data sharing in international life sciences collaborations. In many collaborations, the GDPR must be addressed in early project stages along with additional country-specific guidelines.
Some countries are hesitant to release or openly share data, while others, including the United States, are host to movements toward open science and increasing public access to publications and their associated data.159
It is important to discuss data rights, ownership, use, and publication policy in advance of project initiation and data generation, preferably through written agreements and clear publication processes, as well as a management strategy for making changes to agreements (see MOSAiC).
- 157Ibid., 36.
- 158Ibid., 47.
- 159Michael Stebbins, “Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research,” Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, February 22, 2013; Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Request for Information: Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications, Data and Code Resulting from Federally Funded Research,” Federal Register, February 19, 2020; Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, https://oaspa.org/; and John P. Holdren, “Memorandum for The Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies: Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research,” Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, February 22, 2013.
Different cultures, including variations across scientific disciplines, may have divergent views on issues such as authorship rights, definitions of plagiarism, data ownership, and the ethical implications of technological development.160 They may also have varied perspectives on interpersonal interactions based on gender, race, discipline, or seniority. As one example, the United States has a particularly strong culture of publication that may not be present in all international collaborations.161 Frequently, these differences are not sufficiently discussed when establishing scientific partnerships, leading to significant disputes as the research matures.162 Each partner should understand the limitations imposed on others by their respective cultures, budget cycles, and funding sources before attempting to modify them.
Cultural differences can be both fundamental and not obvious, frequently taking place at the level of language and what is considered “common sense.”163 Long-term partnerships tend to be the most challenging to create and maintain, and for academic research, building understanding at the individual level becomes a key factor.164 U.S. postdoctoral trainees and graduate students native to the collaborating country may be especially well-positioned to provide insight into cultural differences.165
It is possible that cultural differences will become apparent over the course of addressing other topics (such as management or publications). Explicitly spelling out details of the collaboration can help to ensure that the cultural differences are understood and addressed as early as possible. For some projects, memoranda of understanding followed by memoranda of agreement can be valuable for clarifying cultural differences.166
- 160Christie Aschwanden, “Seeking an International Dialogue on Research Integrity,” Cell 131 (1) (2007): 9–11.
- 161For instance, Allan Walker and Peter Bodycott, “Academic Cultures in Singapore and Hong Kong: Some Personal Impressions,” International Higher Education 7 (1997): 8–10.
- 162The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration, 35; and Melissa Susan Anderson, Felly Chiteng Kot, Marta A. Shaw, et al., “Authorship Diplomacy,” American Scientist 99 (3) (2011): 204.
- 163The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration, 20.
- 164Ibid., 21.
- 165Ibid., 32.
- 166Ibid., 24.
Climate change models and projections are used by governments and international bodies around the world for the generation of evidence-based climate policies. These models are built upon global observations of climate data, and their utility improves as the data do. Currently, the Artic climate system is relatively less represented in climate models due to challenges in collecting data from the Central Arctic in the year’s coldest months. Data from this region are especially important for understanding the effects of climate change on the Arctic system, since the Central Arctic has a significant role in warming rates, as evidenced by its increasingly frequent ice-free summers over the past century.167 In response to this research need, a massive international collaboration has launched to study the Arctic climate system year-round.
The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) is a floating facility in the form of a German research icebreaker ship and observatory surrounded by distributed monitoring systems. Built to collect consistent data in the Arctic region over the period of a year, the collaboration is working to improve global understanding of the Arctic climate system to strengthen climate change models.168 The expedition, which launched in 2019 with a total project budget of approximately €140 million, includes hundreds of scientists from seventy research institutes across twenty countries, including Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and many EU member countries.169 The United States participates via federal bodies, including the NSF, DOE, NOAA, NASA, and the Navy, as well as through numerous public and private universities.170 Led primarily by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, the United States also provides key support through the U.S. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), located at the University of Colorado Boulder, and through the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratories Physical Science Division; the United States is the second-largest funding contributor to the collaboration with support from the NOAA, NSF, DOE, and NASA.171
One of the pillars of the MOSAiC collaboration is open data sharing practices.172 All participants are required to store their data on the central MOSAiC database, which is accessible to all collaborators. These data will remain internally accessible to the collaboration until 2022, and then will become open to all people on January 1, 2023. The project is committed to scientific integrity practices: as one example, any manuscript that uses data obtained from the collaboration must be reviewed and approved by the owners of those data, who also must be cited in publications written by other researchers. This approach is explicitly linked to the scientific mission, which seeks to improve the lives of all people, and not one nation or group alone.
Photo © by Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Mario Hoppmann.