Global Cooperation in Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Susan Raymond, Rodney Nichols
Content Type
Working Paper
New York Academy of Sciences
Many experienced observers have noted a persistent fatigue in current systems of international cooperation on research in science, engineering, and medicine. The institutions designed to serve global science since the end of World War II are not keeping pace with the changes sweeping science and technology. In the mid–1990s, the unease and uncertainty has become acute. Yet, simultaneously, research and education in science, engineering, and medicine are themselves becoming increasingly international in scope. This trend is not created by formal collaborative institutions. Instead, the factors setting the global pace include the rise of high–capacity, rapid modes of electronic communications; the end of the Cold War and the defense–based motivations that drove much innovation; the expanding scientific capacity throughout the world; and the emergence of new scientific problems that are increasingly global in nature and widely acknowledged as common priorities among scientists and nations. The uncertain “fit” between traditional institutional arrangements and tomorrow's generation of scientific activities has engendered widespread concern. A central question is how best to re–tool existing mechanisms to serve most effectively international collaboration in addressing the societal goals and research frontiers of the 21st century. The prescription for possible therapies, however, must be accompanied by a clear understanding of the nature of the symptoms and a careful analysis of the current state of existing, collaborative mechanisms.
Government, International Cooperation, International Political Economy, Science and Technology
Political Geography
New York
The Substance of Future Problems New challenges facing society in the coming century will demand ever–greater scientific collaboration. Taking a “top–down” view of the future suggests a series of problem areas, and cross–cutting themes and issues, which will constitute the agenda for future collaboration in science, engineering, and medicine. These issues have a high science and technology content and will require global collaboration over an extended period of time. Future Research Agendas Of the many challenges facing the globe, few are more immediate or compelling than the condition of the environment. Neither the problems of, nor the solutions to, large scale environmental problems concerning climate, oceans, forests, and species are contained within national boundaries. The sharing of information and resources among nations to –mobilize a full analysis of problems, a collaborative definition of goals, and the development of a range of practical solutions will be critical to any effort to craft international collaboration on policy actions. "Megascience” effortsÑprojects with global scientific benefits but whose sheer capital investment exceeds the capacities of individual nationsÑalso present significant future opportunities for collaboration. Projects in high–energy physics, deep ocean and space exploration, and fusion energy research are examples of areas of scientific endeavor in which collaboration will contribute to the efficiency and productivity of research, provided that problems of financing and debates over physical location can be resolved. Expanding and applying the results of research in information technologies and telecommunlcatlonsÑand the concomitant need to develop associated global infrastructure and regulatory standardsÑwill require widely cast collaboration. In the next century, innovations in these technologies will become the nerve system for greater international interactions. Collaboration on research to develop and improve new energy systems will provide opportunities that will contribute not only to national economic prosperity, but also to global environmental protection. Additional areas of global science collaboration that will continue into the future include the re–emergence of many infectious diseases, the emergence of new diseases, and the spread of resistant strains of existing diseases. Because of expanded international travel and denser populations, disease control will become increasingly global in nature. Similarly, problems in expanding food production, coping with population growth, and advancing new energy sources with increased efficiency will continue to demandÑand commandÑbroad global scientific cooperation. Cross–Cutting Factors A variety of cross–cutting factors characterize the international research setting. Whether affecting mission–oriented or basic science, these factors emerge from the same processes of global interconnectedness, changed geopolitical circumstances, and expanded global scientific capacity that contribute to the internationalization of the research enterprise. These emerging factors on the global scene alter the substance and nature of collaborative ventures in science and technology. Declining Resources Many problems will require significant levels of funding to support research agendas. Yet, traditional sources of public and private budgetary support for science and technology are in decline. The R/GDP ratio of many industrialized countries has drifted downward since the mid–1980s. Although this is a crude indicator, it is closely watched and these ratios peaked at around three percent in 1985, and now hover closer to two per– cent. In part, this has been due to changes in public funding for research and development, especially in defense–related cutbacks. Additional critical factors, however, have been changes in the composition of advanced economies and the stagnation of industry–financed R in many traditional sectors. In real terms, annual U.S. industrial commitments to basic research grew by 72 percent between 1980 and 1985, but declined by one percent between 1990 and 1993. Real annual U.S. industrial resources for applied research increased by 66 percent between 1980 and 1985, but only by two percent between 1990 and 1993. Between 1994 and 1995, six of the 10 largest R–based corporations in the United States cut their R spending. Among all OECD members, similar pressures constrict funding for R Under circumstances of resource contraction, every substantive proposal for collaboration in many developed countries will face questions about priorities, efficiency, and likely impacts. Research will be required to be accountable for resources relative to output in a more rigorous manner than has been the case in the last several decades. International cooperation will face sterner tests when national projects are also at stake. Rising Economic Competition A fundamental tension facing future scientific research is the rise of global economic competition. Global trade is growing and deepening. In 1981, for example, European Community manufacturers exported 31 percent of domestic production and Japan exported 15 percent. By 1992, the comparable figures were 48 percent and 22 percent. National priorities for global economic strength and market advantage could have a chilling effect on scientific collaboration. As nations look to science and technology to create advantages in the marketplace and use scarce public resources for research toward that end, the traditional international ethos of scientists may be overtaken by the new national imperative to compete. Similarly, the long–term view of scientific research could be shad– owed by the short–term priority for competitive market advantage. Changing Private Sector Approaches Faced with fast–paced economic change and fierce competition, large corporate commitments to centralized basic research facilities have given way to decentralized research strategies and even to a new breed of high technology companies that eschew traditional concepts of research organizations. Electronic means of communications and broad research net– works are the common modus operandi for research. Moreover, the private sector is forging new alliances among corporations and between the private sector, government, and academic institutions to accelerate research and product development at least cost. In the United States and other countries, the number of university–industry research centers has grown dramatically. Given the importance of private research capacity to the global scientific enterprise, future collaboration will need to reflect this changing corporate approach as well as the growing collaboration between university and government on commercially targeted fields. Increasing Appreciation for Intellectual Property The widespread rise of policies to respect economic incentives, together with the growing opportunity to include the private sector in research collaboration, has brought the continuing issue of intellectual property protection to the forefront of debates about future research collaboration. The importance of this issue is increasingly recognized by both developing and industrialized nations. Ensuring an environment that protects intellectual property within necessarily collaborative efforts will be a prerequisite for effective projects. This will provide trade, assist economic development, and build resources to be reinvested in research. Growing Multidisciplinary Dimensions Most significant problems require multidisciplinary approaches to research. Traditional lines of inquiry and information sharing need to be extended across fields and subfields. Recognizing the degree to which research goals will be intertwined in social and economic structuresÑand hence more apparent to, and contentious within, public foraÑa larger role for the social sciences in collaborative ventures will be called for. The Current State of Collaborative Mechanisms Since World War II, a vast array of institutional mechanisms has been created in support of international science and technology. These mechanisms can be broadly grouped into three categories. Informal Networks: Several single, well–defined problems have given rise to informal networks of scientists and scientific institutions. Examples include the research efforts associated with problems of the ozone layer, AIDS epidemiology, and industrial alliances on materials sciences and electronics. In these cases, the problems tend to be well defined, and collaboration takes the form of data– and information–sharing along with considerable and continuing exchanges about research directions. The proliferation of global communication has led to an equal proliferation of these collaborative arrangements. Centralized Research Facilities: A second mode of collaboration has arisen for large, complex efforts which require a centralized R site. The cost, size, and complexity of the research problem, and the opportunity to address various aspects of the problem in one place, necessitate collaboration not only in the conduct of the scientific research, but also in the investment in equipment to carry out that research. Examples include the Fermilab in the United States, the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, and investments in large–scale telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Formal Research Networks: The third category of research cooperation involves large and complex research that is centrally orchestrated while distributed over a number of research sites rather than conducted at a single site. Examples of such collaborative networks include global climate change research, the Human Genome Project, global agricultural research through the Collaborative Group on International Agricultural Research, and unmanned space observations. Summary of Strengths: Appreciating What Works The most successful of these formally organized global efforts have shared several key characteristics: They are goal–oriented, led by scientists, require high technical competence, and confer clear benefits. Goal–Oriented Projects: Successful efforts result from projects that have had clear, problem–oriented goals. Such projects have set sharply–focused agendas and developed rigorous portfolios of scientific research to pursue those goals. In general, organizations that have allowed their goals and scope to spread and soften have gradually lost their scientific depth and vitality. Scientific Leadership: International scientific leader– ship in the conceptualization of the collaborative effort and in its conduct has proved to be a critical element of success. An additional advantage is having the representatives to the inter– national governing body be drawn from the relevant nation– al scientific communities. When there are counterpart organizations at the national level that match the international organization (e.g., national weather services as representatives in the World Meteorological Organization), collaboration tends to remain focused and professional. High Technical Competency: The most successful formal collaborative institutions have a very high internal level of technical competence. Although usually small in numbers, the central secretariat's scientific staff and advisors are at a peer level with the network of scientists engaged in the collaborative research effort. For example, the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), created in 1949 and confirmed by treaty in 1954, has emerged as a collaborative center for world–class research. CERN scientists have earned four Nobel prizes in the last decade and five Nobel laureates are active on site. Clear Benefits: Successful efforts have also been characterized by the broadly recognized benefits to be gained by collaboration. Disease control and food production generated both the political and the scientific will to sustain long–term collaboration because the benefits were clear. Even basic science can elicit such commitment when benefits are well articulated. The Rationale for Reassessment Existing institutions for global collaboration often a demonstrate significant weaknesses which not only undermine their vibrancy today, but also raise questions about their ability to serve as robust centers in the future. Governance and Staffing An inherent structural weakness in many international collaborative organizations is the central role of governments in defining the very nature and scope of problems to be addressed. As geopolitical units, national governments conceive and prioritize problems consonant with national interests. Within international institutions, each individual government quickly focuses on determining who defines, pays for, conducts, and controls the international scientific efforts that intersect with their national interests. Alternatively, many national governments fail to recognize the importance of science and technology at all. The objective definition of problems and priorities by scientists is often lacking, and, even when present, objectivity can be lost in the back– ground noise of geopolitics. Collaborating institutions become bound up in national and/or global conflicts unrelated to the research work. As a result, the collaboration that emerges often fits poorly with the nature of the problem being addressed. Moreover, the size and composition of staff within international organizations can be affected by national government preferences. Where criteria other than individual merit dominate the staff selection process, the internal strength and quality of the institution suffers, as does its credibility and value as a mechanism for research. Governance weaknesses are not limited to international or national units. Many non– governmental scientific organizations engaged in global collaboration display similar weak recognition of long– range research needs, the professional composition of their governing boards, and the process by which staffing decisions are made. These deficits compromise their effectiveness. Narrow Geographic Focus Most current institutional arrangements were created as products of the scientific communities of the industrialized world. This development reflected the state of global scientific capacity at the end of World War II. As the global situation changed, these mechanisms were inadequate to foster the capacity for growth in newly industrializing countries thereby hampering the development of a truly global collaboration or undermining the ability to draw upon a critical mass of global capability. There is currently no effective, universal, intergovernmental or private forum on science and technology. Narrow Sectoral Participation Most institutions for scientific collaboration focus their efforts on university and government scientific capacity. As an economic sector, the private sector has not been recognized as a critical player in global science and rarely has a seat at the collaborative table. Moreover, the growing number and depth of industry alliances with university research centers underlines the importance of involving private research and development staff in future collaborative relationships. Similarly, collaboration across scientific sectors has also been narrowly conceived. The social sciences have been inadequately integrated into the consideration of broad scientific problems. Yet, the need to broaden both the scientific disciplines and the economic sectors included in collaborative arrangements can run counter to the equal need to focus effort and drive toward efficiency. In an effort to match problem complexity with organizational breadth, institutions themselves can expand and consume ever greater resources for their own management and administration. Being both scientifically comprehensive and organizationally parsimonious presents a difficult challenge. Resource Instability In a time of resource scarcity, existing mechanisms face uncertain funding futures. Governments do notÑand in some cases cannotÑmake long–term funding commitments. Collaboration that requires long–term effort meshes poorly with unreliable financial arrangements. In turn, this economic instability dampens the enthusiasm of scientists themselves for undertaking new initiatives and vigorously pursuing opportunities for a new generation of collaborative research arrangements. Inefficiency Given scarce resources and complex global problems, a premium must be put on efficiency both within and among institutions. Instead, however, historical definitions of institutional boundaries, growing programmatic portfolios, and the proliferation of govern– mental, international, and non–governmental organizations all have tended to lead to duplication of effort and overlap of responsibilities. The existing system of collaboration does not have a rigorous, regular mechanism for self–assessment and reallocation of institutional and programmatic responsibility based on program efficiency. Institutional Rigidity The pace of change in the world and in science itself requires a certain nimbleness of collaborative mechanisms. Institutional change in private organizations is driven by the sharp edge of competition. To remain competitive in the global marketplace, private corporations often must merge, radically restructure to adapt to new circumstances, or die. In contrast, much of the aging institutional infrastructure for global collaboration has become rigid and bureaucratic. Existing centralized organizations, created without “sunset clauses” and as global monoliths, have felt little motivation to keep pace with change. Lack of Focus Many international organizations, subject to many national and non–governmental interests in a complex world, have lost their substantive focus. Their portfolio of concerns has merely spread and overlapped with others. This dispersion of institutional scope over an ever–widening substantive sweep has resulted in dissipated resources and a gradual loss of legitimate expertise on any particular problem. Many organizations appear unsure of either their goals or their priorities. In turn, this lack of focus has eroded support not only in scientific circles, but in the halls of public policy. Generational Lag The combination of many of the aforementioned weaknesses together with the expansion of global communications has eroded the relevance of existing institutions in the eyes of the younger generation of scientists. Collaborative institutions are not attracting to their programs the best and brightest of the younger scientists who will become tomorrow's scientific leaders. Indeed, with a lack of incentives, resources or encouragement for broad international travel and project participation, this upcoming generation of scientists often lacks the far–flung international professional net– works that gave rise to research collaboration in previous decades. Communications Shortcomings Existing institutional mechanisms have seldom succeeded in effectively communicating the importance of scientific Issues and resources to national policy makers or to the public to which policy makers are accountable. Hence, the support within national decision–making structures for global science collaboration, or for national efforts linked to collaboration, is often weak. This communications shortcoming often leaves research opportunities orphaned on the national policy stage. Future Characteristics The general problems faced by the globe in creating income, distributing jobs, and improving quality of lifeÑall without damaging future welfareÑare vividly clear. To solve these problems the patterns of collaboration that are emerging in the global scientific marketplace are shifting in fundamental ways. Any institutional framework that facilitates global collaboration, then, must also shift if it is to continue to provide value to the scientific community. What are the underlying characteristics that institutions for global research collaboration must demonstrate? Clear Objectives: Future international scientific institutions must display and pursue clear, goal–driven missions. From those missions, scientific creativity can then work its magic. But it is from the central goal that institutional accountability will be derived. Sound Governance and Leadership: Scientists must occupy key positions of authority in collaborative institutions. Governance must be efficient and accountable, and staff organization must be based on merit. Regular and objective evaluation of both programs and organizational directions is an absolute necessity. Inclusivity: Mechanisms for collaboration must reflect the increasing diversity of sources of scientific research expertise. The newly industrializing countries of Asia and the Subcontinent, vibrant scientific institutes in Latin America, emerging scientific capabilities in AfricaÑall must be woven into the collaborative pattern at the very beginning of organizational planning and throughout the pursuit of research. Capacity–Building: For research collaboration to take advantage of all available talent and meet global goals, capacities for participation in research must be spread. The net of collaboration must be broad if it is to be strong. Future institutions will need to attend to capacity building in order to approach global problems effectively. Private Sector Involvement: The private sector must be an integral partner in collaboration. Links between government, universities and the private sector should characterize a growing fraction of collaboration. An Outline Plan for Action collaboration that are emerging in the global scientific m Improved mechanisms for global research collaboration in science, engineering, and medicine are clearly needed. Yet many difficulties hamper the process of better adapting existing institutions to solve future problems and to capitalize on future opportunities. The tensions that arise from the conflict between the flow of global opportunities and the stock of existing institutions argue for a careful, comprehensive assessment of how to rebuild collaborative patterns. Given the pace of innovation and change, that assessment must begin immediately so that subsequent institutional changes can be effective soon. Principles Such an assessment must adhere to three broad principles. First, it should be independent, privately undertaken and privately fund– ed. Nonetheless, the cooperation of existing collaborative institutions and related national government agencies is critical. The objective of an assessment is not to find fault or to lodge criticism; it is to improve collaborative relationships. But, the degree to which the existing defective mechanisms are vested in existing relationships is undeniable. Accordingly, to ensure that an assessment is objective and above the pull of special interests, the analysis must not primarily rely on either the financial resources or the institutional “home” of either national or international organizations. Second, the needed assessment must be broad and open. In particular, public, private, and academic scientific leaders from the nations of the developing world, as well as those from industrialized nations and newly industrializing countries must be consulted. The “South” must be centrally involved in both analyzing the problems and crafting the solutions. Third, the advisory mechanism for the review must be diverse and experienced. Advisors must include a group of scientific leaders from a variety of nations who can provide deep knowledge about past and current corporate, government, and academic research programs. These individuals must serve in their private capacity. While their professional experiences will be critical, their perspectives and counsel must be offered without institutional affiliation. Participants in the ad hoc Bellagio group will help take the next steps, and the New York Academy of Sciences will facilitate the process with the help of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Characteristics The assessment must take the long view. It must survey the substance and structure of collaboration in a 5– to 25–year time frame. Institutions change slowly. If changes are to be relevant, they must reflect not merely the most pressing issues of today, but also the likely patterns of the future. The assessment must also be both top–down and bottom–up. It must reflect the priorities as seen from the perspectives of national and international leaders and those of young working scientists. The former provide critical context; the latter will be the pioneers of long–term change. The analysis and development of alternatives must be practical and realistic. Net conclusions from the assessment must frame changes that are viable in the near term and sustainable over time. Seizing the Opportunity Although final determination of the size and duration of a global assessment has not been made, the general parameters of the process can be set out. The core element of the process is the necessity for broad debate and consultation. The process must enable the various economic sectors and scientific disciplines to articulate their needs and goals, and to chart a strategy for creating the institutional mechanisms to achieve them. That articulation must knit together at least three perspectives: That of differing nations and geographic regions; that of various scientific disciplines and subject–oriented groupings; and that of the three critical sectors who fund, perform, and use research (academic/non–profit, corporate, and governmental). Hence, a multi–phased dialogue is needed. In one phase, the various disciplines might gather in national and/or regional meetings to consider the most important opportunities and needs for collaboration. The process might be organized by clusters of professional societies and/or academies and universities. This dialogue would attempt to develop vivid and concrete examples of disciplinary and topical research programs for which regional and global action are critical. These meetings would bring together leaders from public, private, and academic institutions. Young investigators would be encouraged to participate. A report on the key findings of these deliberations would be developed for distribution to all regions and all disciplines. In another phase, which might proceed in parallel, global dialogues would be organized, one each for the private, government, and academic/non–profit leaders. These would attempt to integrate needs and goals across disciplines and regions. Over the long term, these three groupings might evolve into “framework” organizations, which would promote collaboration and dialogue among scientists within the three circles of private, government, and academic/non–profit endeavors. The three circles might come together in a harmonizing process to share their views and to consider mechanisms for institutionalizing regular global exchange of viewpoints. A tri–cameral set of bodies might even agree to launch a periodic global science meeting around a mutually developed agenda to share information and priorities. This would promote collaboration across disciplines, among regions, and throughout the private, government, and academic/non–profit sectors. Throughout this process, the existing international institution– al secretariats would be invited to participate. Documentation giving data and selected assessments about present trends would also be gathered and distributed to foster debate about choices and opportunities. A Concluding Thought The coming decades hold great challenge and great promise for science, engineering and medicine, and the categories and institutions of the past can now be adjusted to promote this future. In doing so, old boundariesÑ intellectual, institutional, and politicalÑmust be breached, and a new web of communication and collaboration among institutions and individuals must be spun. Such a web will emerge from open, visible, and democratic debates among the global scientific community. These debates, in turn, will create not only greater understanding and a firmer consensus about mechanisms for improved collaboration, but also underscore the commitment of global scienceÑpublic, private and academicÑto seize the opportunity to convert mere change into meaningful progress. The sweep of urgent global goals that depend upon advancing science, together with the extraordinary frontiers in research, give the need for institutional change a compelling immediacy. Maintaining and deepening the strengths of global science tomorrow requires commitment to broad–gauged analysis and reform today. The New York Academy of Sciences is strongly committed to these aims and will, within the available resources, pursue them vigorously.