Monday, August 25, 2008

More About the New Invisible College

In her book, The New Invisible College, Caroline Wagner describes the growth of global science and within that growth the more rapid growth of international collaboration among scientists. In the final chapter, Caroline considers the governance of this new invisible college of collaborating scientists building a grand edifice of knowledge.

National Governmental Policies

Quite reasonably she focuses on governments and their role in governance of the global system. Governments are major funders of fundamental science. They govern science within their borders. More importantly, they have not delegated governance responsibilities for science to international or intergovernmental bodies.

Caroline makes a very pertinent observation that all countries must now recognize that it is often not only more efficient but also more practical to obtain scientific information that they need from abroad than domestically. That information can be obtained from the public domain or by collaborations between homeland and foreign scientists. (While once the United States did half the world's science, even this country now produces only half of the science produced abroad.)

Thus all nations must build their science policies around the acquisition of scientific information from abroad and the facilitation of international collaboration by its scientists. I would add that U.S. international science policy should be seen as closely linked to our soft diplomacy and our development assistance policy.

The Private Sector

The rise of multinational companies in an increasingly global economy raises significant issues of the role of corporations in international science. They fund a great deal of science, and indeed carry out a great deal of research within their corporate structures. Increasingly the multinationals are moving their research activities from country to country, seeking lower costs, high quality, or access to national markets. There seems little alternative than to allow the corporations to make their own science strategies under the discipline of the market, although national governments can and do regulate research activities of corporations doing business within their borders, and offer incentives and sanctions intended to assure corporate science is done within their countries and in support of their economic and other needs. Perhaps more importantly, governments survey the research portfolio of the private, for profit sector to detect public goods which require public intervention.

Civil society plays a smaller role in international science, but foundations have been quite important and it may well be that it is increasingly so. U.S. experience is that foundations and non-governmental organizations provide an important complement to government funding of non-commercial science. The government's role has been to establish rules that make donations to such organizations tax deductable, and regulate to ensure that civil society organizations use their resources to promote charitable causes.

Institutions to Promote Trust

The institutionalization of systems of international collaboration require there to be trust among the collaborators. A small but significant effort that establishes that trust is the effort of organizations such as UNESCO and the European Union to establish standard setting conventions that assure that educational credentials are comparable among participating nations. Indeed, the higher education sector is in part self regulating as accreditation institutions are widely used to assure the quality asserted by university degrees.

More importantly, science is self regulating. Professional journals and peer review provide systems to prevent scientific misconduct and to warrant the quality of scientific work while disseminating scientific information in the public domain.

The UN decentralized agencies also play an important, albeit little recognized role in building trust in the scientific community. For example, the World Health Organization establishes peer review mechanisms using the results of biomedical research to establish guidelines for medical practice which are widely accepted in developing nations.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Committee provides a mechanism which establishes trust among the states whose waters are traversed by research ships on their voyages; its International Hydrological program similarly provides a trusted agent for cross border hydrological studies. The Global Network of Biosphere Reserves provides a mechanism by which countries can commit to cooperation in the operation of this global network and the research to establish means for sustainable preservation of biodiversity.

In other cases bilateral or multilateral agreements are created, such as for the financing of megaprojects that are cooperatively financed by several nations, and which offer facilities to be used by multinational networks of collaborators.

Financing of science as a global public good

The International Agricultural Research Centers are perhaps a prototyical network that meets a global need, and requires funding from a consortium of donors. The network, governed by the Consortium for International Agricultural Research with its scientific advisory bodies, is essentially a club of funding bodies -- governments and foundations. The IARCs serve a global purpose in the maintenance of seed banks protecting the biodiversity of mankind's major crop species, making it available as a public good. They also are the keystone in a network of national agricultural research and extension services, providing improved varieties to be adapted to local conditions by national bodies, and increasingly interacting with global private sector seed and agricultural chemistry industries. The system in part was created in response to the fact that poor, developing nations did not have the keystone agricultural research capacity that was needed to fight hunger, promote rural development, and prevent famines. The international agricultural research system has been regarded as the most fully articulated such system, but its recent lack of funding indicate the remaining inadequacy of that form of international scientific governance.

While other initiatives involving multinational support for centers of research excellence have been introduced their success is mixed. CERN, a facility for nuclear research in Europe, financed by a club of rich nations, has been successful over decades, and counts such successes as the invention of the World Wide Web. So too, the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (IDDRB) has been in operation for decades and can point to many accomplishments, including Oral Rehydration Therapy. But the Central American system of regional research and development centers has had continued difficulties raising support among its member states.

The ongoing humanitarian disaster of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and the other diseases of poverty, so common in tropical climates, is resulting in the creation of a variety of new institutions which alternatively foster and distribute philanthopic donations (many from governments) or provide incentives (sometimes non-financial) for the private sector to invest in appropriate biomedical research and development.

The current situation with regard to the international space station may illustrate the nature of the problems. The United States is phasing out the space shuttle, and does not expect to have a maned vehicle to supply the space station for several years. It had been planned to utilize Russian manned rockets to send Americans to the space station. Now, however, with the crisis in Georgia, that thinking is being agonizingly reappraised. There seems always to be a possibility when institutionalizing a support mechanism to last for decades to see an increasing tension among the member nations or a financial crisis affecting some or all, to threaten the entire ediface.

Donor Assistance for Building Scientific Capacity

The International Financial Institutions, the United Nations programs and decentralized agencies, and bilateral donors all have programs to support the creation of scientific capacity in developing nations, and of the capacity to govern science in those nations.

The coordination of these efforts are sometimes accomplished by donor coordinating bodies, and sometimes by interlocking directorates as the governments of the bilateral donors and the major recipients govern the intergovernmental organizations.

Final Comment

As the global Invisible College is growing and evolving, so too are the institutional infrastructure providing the resources it needs to thrive, the trust among its participants needed to enable their collaboration, and the prioritization for the allocation of resources and attention, as well as the distribution of its results.

World spending on R&D is more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year, and if one considers other scientific and technological activities that funding must be well over a trillion dollars a year. Millions of scientists working in nearly 200 nations are involved in the system. A century ago international science was not not nearly of this scale. The change is like that of a village growing into a metropolis. Not surprisingly one counts the time for the evolution of the institutions supporting this expanded system in decades (centuries) rather than in years. Expanding the metaphor, we do not yet understand how to build an adequate institutional infrastructure for the megacities that are appearing around the world, even though there have been large cities from which to learn for centuries. There is no comparable model for the governance of a huge global network of collaborating scientists, and it should not be surprising that we are seeing institutional gaps and institutional failures.

1 comment:

Ganesh said...

Very good Explanation of Global science .I felt it is a new approach.
very much satisfied with the detailing of collaboration among scientists .