America and the International Future of Science

From the President of the American Academy

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

America and the International Future of Science, a report from the American Academy’s multiyear initiative Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships (CISP), arrives during one of the most turbulent times for international scientific engagement in U.S. history. Its lessons are timely and vital for scientific leaders and policy-makers now and in the years to come.

As this report goes to press, a viral pandemic continues to sweep across the globe. COVID-19 has already killed over a million people worldwide, including more than two hundred fifty thousand Americans, and has devastated individual livelihoods and national economies. This crisis has prompted unprecedented levels of international collaboration between U.S. scientists and researchers abroad as they race to discover cures and therapies. Yet it has also been met with a counterproductive government response that has diminished U.S. standing in the international scientific community and reduced our capacity to combat the disease.

At the same time, long-standing political and economic tensions between the United States and China have escalated and threaten to damage bilateral scientific cooperation. China is our largest scientific collaborator; while national security and intellectual property interests warrant safeguards, unnecessarily hampering this scientific relationship through extreme constraints on collaboration directly threatens the success of the American R&D enterprise and, thereby, the nation.

The same is true of efforts to severely curb immigration of people eager to pursue their scientific dreams and make their discoveries in American universities and laboratories or in collaboration with American scientists. Recent announcements of extreme visa restrictions for international students, postdoctoral fellows, and other researchers threaten to deal a devastating blow to American science for years to come.

This project directly addresses timely issues such as these, alongside a longer-term analysis of the challenges and benefits associated with international scientific partnerships. CISP was established in 2017 under the initiative of then Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. Since then, the project has worked to examine impediments to international collaboration and identify policy changes and best practices to make the United States a better partner in such relationships, especially in large-scale ventures and in collaborations with emerging science partners, topics that will be explored in greater detail in subsequent project reports.

This work was made possible by the dedicated and thoughtful leadership of the CISP initiative. The Academy would like to express deep gratitude to 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.

The wisdom and guidance of the CISP Steering Committee and the CISP working groups on Large-Scale Science and Emerging Science Partners were crucial for the development of this report (see Appendix). We are particularly appreciative of the leadership and insight provided by Shirley Malcom, Senior Advisor and Director of SEA Change at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Olufunmilayo Olopade, Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor in the Biological Sciences Division, Professor of Medicine & Human Genetics, and Associate Dean for Global Health at The University of Chicago, who cochaired the working group on Emerging Science Partners.

We are grateful for the support of many Academy Fellows in the development of this project, especially members of the Academy’s Board of Directors, Council, and Trust. We are further appreciative of the Alfred P. Sloan, William and Flora Hewlett, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations for their financial support of this initiative.

Thanks as well to the members of the Academy staff who worked to prepare this report: Amanda Vernon, Rebecca Tiernan, Tania Munz, John Randell, Gregory Savageau, Rainer Assé, Erica Kimmerling, Phyllis Bendell, Peter Walton, Heather Struntz, and Scott Raymond.

I join with the contributors to this report to call for its arguments and recommendations to be carefully considered by America’s leaders in government, industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector. Our country is strengthened by our engagement with international scientific colleagues, across all disciplines and at all scales, to meet the global challenges that face us.

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