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International Scientific Collaboration: A Key Aspect of Research

International Scientific Collaboration (ISC) has been under harsh scrutiny as of late due to a letter that the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, sent to various universities last August. In his letter, Mr. Collins voiced his concerns about the interference in funding, research, and peer-review process of federally funded projects by foreign entities. The letter was a result of increasing concern over US federally funded research property being found in the hands of foreign entities. Recently, Elon Musk and his company, Tesla, have experienced a similar situation, where propriety information has been improperly shared with competitors without authorization. While the concern is indeed valid, the measures that have been taken to combat the issue raise ethical concerns and create an atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion. Since Francis Collins’s letter, investigation into specific researchers has occurred, with focus on the funding sources these researchers received. The findings of these investigations have led to the termination of researchers at prestigious universities, including MD Anderson and Emory, due to compliance failures. It is important to note that the researchers that have been scrutinized and terminated have been of Asian descent.

Scientific and technological advancement is not possible without collaboration. To cite a notable historical example, the Silk Road was not only a trade route which allowed for goods to be distributed but it also allowed for collaboration to occur and facilitated the spread of knowledge. Without this exchange of knowledge and the inherent collaboration that the Silk Road catalyzed, the scientific and technological advancements that have been transformative to our society as we know it today would likely not have occurred. To this day, collaboration, particularly internationally, proves to be the foundation of our future.

Exchange of knowledge and expertise underlies the foundation of scientific research. No one researcher is capable of being an expert in every aspect relevant to their research, thus it becomes necessary to collaborate and share knowledge in order for research to be performed thoroughly. ISC plays a key role in high caliber science, where scientists with the most potential and with their individual expertise, can come together to work toward a common goal: the betterment of the human species and the world.

While ISC is indeed necessary, it is essential to remain within ethical bounds and not discriminate against any one race or institution. Recently, the Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA) (H.R.3038) and the Secure American Research Act (S.2133) have been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. These bills aim to create an interagency working group to coordinate and establish guidelines to protect federally funded research and development from foreign interference.

As scientists, it is our duty to monitor the progress of these bills and ensure that the working group that is created and the round table that will be hosted by the National Academies act justly in creating policy guidelines to ensure that discrimination does not occur. It is key that collaboration remains an active and encouraged practice in scientific and technological research.