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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation

"Collaboration and Competition: What Can
Governments Do"

G8 Heads of Research Councils Meeting

Paris, France
May 15, 2006

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[Title Slide]
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Good morning everyone. I am pleased to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you on a topic of increasing importance.

Simply put, scientists and engineers are embracing international partnerships and working collaboratively at unprecedented levels. Nations, on the other hand, are engaged in red-hot competition for research and development investment and science and engineering talent.

This conundrum -- accelerating collaboration and increasing competition -- is simple to state, but by no means simple to resolve. I'll begin by highlighting some salient features of the current environment for research and education, and then go on to point out some underlying trends. I'll finish with a suggestion or two about responses that governments -- research councils in particular -- might consider in light of these observations and trends.

[Slide #2: The Conduct of Science Is Changing]
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Current Environment

Networks -- conceptual and personal, physical and virtual, and above all, global -- define our world today. In science and engineering research, they are nothing short of revolutionary.

Combined with today's massive computing power, networks have not only made it possible to reach the frontier faster, they have also increased, by orders of magnitude, the levels of complexity open to exploration and experimentation. When we dramatically advance the speed of scientific research in any area, we give ourselves the mechanism to reach a frontier much faster. We can now reach frontiers that had been unreachable, even unknowable, in the past.

Evolving in concert with these new tools are different ways of working within science and engineering, particularly collaboration across multidisciplinary, often international teams. The convergence of disciplines and the cross-fertilization that characterizes contemporary science and engineering have made collaboration a necessity. Networks have made it a reality.

Scientists can now collaborate with such ease -- or soon will be able to do so -- that any research project, large or small, is grist for the partnership mill. The upshot is that fresh concepts can -- and regularly do -- migrate across borders, without any help or hindrance from governments.

The current situation is far different among governments. Every nation now knows that investments in education, research and research infrastructure are the key elements driving the global economy in a knowledge-intensive era. That has created increased tension between national needs and international opportunities to advance scientific understanding.

To put it starkly, international scientific collaboration is outpacing the progress nations are making in resolving economic and social policy differences. As nations grapple with these issues, scientists are steadily building close relationships and a tightly knit global community with common interests.

[Slide #3: High-Speed Networks]
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This snapshot, with its focus on the transformational power of networking, is reflected in some well-established trends. We can follow the trajectories of these trends into the future without difficulty. They will be familiar to all of you, so I will state them briefly.

  • Bandwidth is increasing at an accelerating pace. High-speed networks will soon reach every corner of the globe, shrinking our world even further. As federated facilities and shared resources proliferate, research in real time, across borders, will increase at an increasing rate. When high-quality video becomes a standard feature of networks, "virtual" face-to-face communication -- with anyone, anywhere -- will break down the human and social barriers to cooperation even further.

[Slide #4: R&D Expenditures Selected Regions and Countries]
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  • Nations continue to boost investments in research and development to build economic momentum. The US, for example, has made a commitment to double funding for physical science and engineering research over the next decade. Other nations are on track to reach an investment target of three percent of GDP.
  • The short supply of well qualified talent, combined with growing demand, is driving increased competition for the best scientists and engineers worldwide. Many nations are using incentives to attract talent from abroad and to keep native talent at home. But there is also a growing recognition that dependence on international talent won't serve long term interests.
  • Young people in many nations -- including developing countries -- are opting out of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, exacerbating the global shortage, and endangering the future of the science and engineering enterprise.

[Slide #5: Merit Review and Violations of Ethical Practices]
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  • As science and technology become more central to national prosperity, the task of managing the quality of the research enterprise is taking on larger proportions. Merit review is increasingly accepted as the "gold standard" of research management. As collaboration increases, however, there is growing recognition that new international arrangements are necessary, including a process for international merit review. Smaller countries are already cooperating to develop an adequate pool of peer reviewers.
  • The number of violations of sound ethical practices in the conduct of science and engineering continues to increase. These include, among other things, plagiarism, failing to present contradictory data, changing methodology or results in response to pressure from a funding source, and blatantly "cooking" the data.

[Slide #6: Tension Between Collaboration and Competition]
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How to Proceed

We all know that an inevitable tension between collaboration and competition will persist. In a sense, all nations cooperate in advancing frontier research and technology in order to compete in the marketplace. We need international collaboration on a global basis to identify exactly where the frontier is at any moment. We need fresh intelligence from the frontier to avoid being blindsided by new discovery and technologies.

In reality, scientists and engineers are so far down the global collaboration track that there is really no way to stop the train. And we would be unwise to try. The rapid spread of new computing and networking technologies compels us to join hands across borders -- if we want to stay on the track.

So, how should we proceed? We should pursue more global involvement, not less. That means finding new ways to resolve issues of cooperation and competition as they arise.

Let me suggest some ways forward.

[Slide #7: What Governments Can Do]
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As a prerequisite for progress, we must maintain open communication and a receptive stance toward cooperation. As Heads of Research Councils, we are in a better position than most to follow global trends persistently. We must keep channels open to coordinate the gathering and sharing of information. That will alert us to new developments as the terrain unfolds, and help us determine how best to respond.

More broadly, we should adopt a policy of positive inclusion, welcoming developing nations into the mainstream of international science and engineering research. Information technologies offer vastly expanded opportunities for developing nations to participate in world class research, and to do so cost effectively.

The extension of fiber optics beyond the major networks that link more developed nations would remove a major impediment to the full participation of developing nations. Funding these networks in the interest of social and economic progress is a role the private sector could assume, and research councils should promote this outcome.

Greater access to global broadband networks will also extend opportunities for cost-effective higher education to the developing world in a cost effective way through digital libraries, data banks, and the full panoply of rapidly evolving distributed learning opportunities available on the Web. Once again, we must find ways to deliver these educational resources in a coordinated way that ensures access to all. Talent resides in every nation, and will flourish once access to quality education is readily available.

As global networks develop, we need to identify common ground and ensure compatibility by establishing standard protocols. A full complement of shared cyberinfrastructure will advance the frontiers of science and engineering more rapidly, to the benefit of all.

We can increase scientific productivity and efficiency worldwide by building shared global resources, drawing upon one pot of money. This would be a win-win situation. All benefit from access to more kinds of instruments rather than more instruments of a kind.

[Slide #8: What Governments Can Do (cont.)]
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The development of major international research facilities -- CERN is a fine example -- has been a catalyst for the development and spread of more sophisticated networking. Importantly, it has also been a motivation for ensuring the compatibility that is requisite for international cooperation. The two go hand-in-hand.

But international coordination is still a major work in progress. We could greatly improve the operation of major facilities through better coordination of national budget cycles and the timing of decisions, and by streamlining preplanning processes. We will also need new governance and project management methods to strike a balance between efficiency and broad participation.

Funding genuine international partnerships is a natural role for research councils, and all of us have efforts of this kind underway. Expanding these in both developed and developing countries could substantially amplify national and regional graduate education and training efforts in science and engineering.

[Slide #9: What Governments Can Do (cont.)]
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We should promote bilateral and multilateral exchanges in science and technology. If we do so vigorously, the path to resolving differences among nations through cooperation in research and education will be recognized as an effective means of diplomacy.

Attracting more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics may be our greatest challenge. In our knowledge-intensive world, this seems to be an inexplicable contradiction. Solving this quandary can make or break our global future. Frankly, I am interested in what each of you believes to be the root of this growing problem.

Finally, we should raise the profile of ethical standards of scientific conduct to the international level. Mounting pressures on scientists to produce rapid breakthroughs increase the temptation to deviate from rigorous standards of conduct. In nations that are more dependent on public funding of research, such missteps can lead to the loss of public confidence and trust in science and scientists. That could seriously damage the continuity and stability of the science and engineering enterprise. Flagrant violations can cast a shadow over an entire field of research and jeopardize progress worldwide.

There are fundamental values inherent in the conduct of science: openness, transparency, and objectivity, to name the most obvious. Reliable knowledge about the world, and the useful benefits we gain from it, depend on honoring these values.

But there are broader societal values at play as well. These include a cluster of common responsibilities: to pursue science in the public interest, to investigate the potential consequences stemming from new knowledge and developments in technology, and to ensure broad access to the benefits flowing from them -- to name only a few.

These values take on added significance today because -- for the first time -- the resolution of major dilemmas that challenge society is within our reach.

[Slide #10: Virtual Handshake]
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Finally, over the years, many attempts have been made to construct a "Hippocratic Oath" that embraces this broader territory of scientific responsibility. One of these, initiated by the US Student Pugwash Group, has been signed by thousands of students from many countries.

"I promise to work for a better world, where science and technology are used in socially responsible ways. I will not use my education for any purpose intended to harm human beings or the environment. Throughout my career, I will consider the ethical implications of my work before I take action. While the demands placed upon me may be great, I sign this declaration because I recognize that individual responsibility is the first step on the path to peace."

Governments should consider promoting the adoption of such an international statement of values. This oath would be an admirable starting point to delineate the increasingly important need for responsible scientific behavior.



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