America and the International Future of Science

Executive Summary

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

While many U.S. policies and practices related to international scientific cooperation originated in the decades following World War II when U.S. R&D spending eclipsed that of all other nations, that spending now constitutes only about one-quarter of global R&D expenditures. As global R&D investments and international scientific talent have increased, U.S. scientists are increasingly conducting research with international collaborators.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences undertook the Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships (CISP) initiative to assess both the importance and the challenges of international scientific collaborations to the United States through a series of workshops held between 2018 and 2020 with scientists, science administrators, and policy-makers in the United States and around the world. The CISP project began well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the globe and continues to devastate individuals and societies as this report goes to print. The challenge of the pandemic has reinforced the CISP study’s principal conclusion that the benefits of international scientific collaboration for the United States and the world are substantial and growing and far outweigh the risks they can present. Those risks, particularly to U.S. national security, must be carefully managed while recognizing there are also benefits from scientific collaboration with potential adversaries and countries with which the United States has strained relations. For this reason, the CISP project recognizes that the topic of U.S. collaboration with China merits special attention.

The CISP initiative identifies six primary factors that underlie the imperative for the United States to continue and to strengthen its investments and participation in international scientific collaboration. These factors are:

1. The Global Nature of Scientific Questions: Advancing Knowledge Often Requires International Engagement

Both fundamental questions and those related to broad societal problems are not defined by national boundaries, and progress often requires data and expertise from more than one country. Addressing complex problems frequently involves 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. Examples range from imaging a massive black hole at the center of a galaxy to addressing the threats of pandemics and climate change.

2. Leveraging International Talent: Sustaining A Strong STEM Workforce

To maintain leadership in fundamental research, it is essential that the United States continue to have an academic education and research system that is open, strong, and attractive and welcoming to international students, many of whom choose to remain in the United States and become citizens.

3. U.S. Economic Competitiveness: Strengthening America and Boosting Prosperity

The core of the U.S. R&D enterprise is fundamental research. It is a source of discovery and new knowledge, critical to innovation and the development of new technology. Increasingly, fundamental research is performed globally; in 1960, U.S. federal funding represented 45 percent of all global R&D, while today, it accounts for less than 10 percent. The United States, its companies, and its scientists must engage with the broader scientific community if America is to be among the world leaders across all scientific fields and benefit economically from the dividends of scientific research conducted both nationally and internationally.

4. U.S. National Security: Bolstering Security with Knowledgeable Engagement and Science Diplomacy

We are living now in a world in which scientific breakthroughs that lead to technological leadership, military strength, and the ability to face and mitigate destructive natural phenomena are increasingly likely to occur in other countries, some of which are potential adversaries to the United States. In the broad area of fundamental research that is openly publishable, it is vital that the United States maintain a robust scientific and technological community that is both producing many of the breakthroughs and is in a position to learn of, and take advantage of, the advances that occur outside its borders. The United States must work with allies and adversaries alike to counter the global phenomena that threaten all nations. Healthy scientific cooperation, including mutual participation in large international scientific facilities and programs, helps to build trust and should be encouraged. Scientific partnerships can be an important element of foreign policy and international relationships. Problems that impact the world, like environmental degradation, climate change, and pandemics, necessitate such cooperation. The United States has the opportunity to play a global leadership role that will benefit humankind. In doing so, the United States must look not only to those nations that are presently strong, but also to those in the Global South that are emerging as scientific partners.

5. Funding Realities: Requirements  for Successful Participation in Large-Scale Science

Large-scale scientific facilities used by American scientists have become increasingly expensive and are most often built by the U.S. federal government and, in some cases, with significant contributions from international partners. International collaboration has been recognized as a major opportunity to sustain U.S. excellence in many fields, effectively leveraging the financial investment in scientific research made by the United States and working with scientific expertise from around the world. Without support and commitment to collaboration from the U.S. government, future 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. The United States must participate in these advances and be prepared strategically to commit to collaboration on the funding, planning, development, and operation of new large-scale scientific research capabilities at home and abroad.

6. Contributing to Development and Application of Ethical Norms and Scientific Guidelines

The United States must be engaged in the development of global ethical frameworks and guidelines for research. As discoveries and technological capacities increase, ethical questions are becoming more complex, especially when accounting for the range of ethical and cultural norms within the international community and considering shifting societal contexts. Collaborators must also develop norms for the ethical scientific conduct within partnerships, such as protocols for sample and data collection, appropriate attribution and assignment of credit, and ownership of samples and intellectual property. The Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA is an important example of how the codevelopment of ethical norms and guidelines promoted international peace and security, as the United States and other countries adopted the safety guidelines and recommendations produced as a way to protect their populations while still furthering the science.

“Now and in the years ahead, we need, more than anything else, the honest and uncompromising common sense of science. Science means a method of thought. That method is characterized by open-mindedness, honesty, perseverance, and, above all, by an unflinching passion for knowledge and truth. 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.”
— Harry S. Truman, 1948