I braved airline travel in COVID America to attend the fall 2021 meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), which took place Dec. 13–14 in Washington, DC. At the opening plenary session, the forward-looking head of CNI, Clifford Lynch, talked about a topography of emerging advances and trends he sees in the broad terrain of research and scholarship. While the talk was interesting, during the Q&A portion, a question about research impact indicators particularly piqued my interest because the questioner used the term “research reputation-industrial complex” to describe the overreliance on simplistic metrics and indicators in research evaluation processes.
As it happened, using that phrase in his question was none other than library luminary Lorcan Dempsey, a prodigious thinker in the information profession with a longtime career at OCLC. Dempsey was gracious enough to give me some of his time to discuss issues related to the generation and refinement of research impact metrics by for-profit entities, namely Elsevier, Clarivate, and Digital Science. Dempsey suggested that info pros and librarians should question the motives of commercial players and their roles in research evaluation. Dempsey made it clear to me that he is merely an observer and by no means an expert in scientometrics or research evaluation, yet I thought his point merited pondering.
Chemical engineers at the University of Illinois Chicago are investigating new methods to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cement manufacturing.
Cement is one of the most widely used building materials, but its production is responsible for up to 8% of global emissions from carbon dioxide, representing a major challenge to the goal of reducing climate change. Despite ongoing efforts to research renewable energy options and new cementation methods, there is currently no clear pathway to carbon-neutral cement manufacturing.
Now, thanks to two federal grant awards, UIC researchers and their collaborators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pennsylvania State University are hoping to change this fact.
Government-funded research can seem niche or obscure, raising the question of how well such projects actually serve the public interest.
A new study led by Northwestern University researchers, however, finds that public funding is well-aligned with public use, and that the public tends to value research that scientists also see as impactful within their fields.
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland today announced that Haskell Indian Nations University, a Bureau of Indian Education-operated Tribal University in Lawrence, Kansas, is the recipient of a $20 million award from the National Science Foundation for an Indigenous science hub project. Funded under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the award is for five years and is the largest research award ever granted by the NSF to a Tribal college or university.
The project will create The Large Scale CoPe: Rising Voices, Changing Coasts: The National Indigenous and Earth Sciences Convergence Hub, a space for the convergence of disciplines and epistemologies where Indigenous knowledge-holders from diverse coastal regions will work with university-trained social, ecosystem and physical Earth system scientists and students on transformative research to address coastal hazards in the contexts of their communities.
“The Rising Voices, Changing Coasts hub to be located at Haskell Indian Nations University is a tremendous step forward in supporting Tribal communities as they address challenges from a rapidly changing climate,” said Assistant Secretary Newland. “This is an exciting and much-needed opportunity for scientists and Indigenous knowledge keepers to collaborate on how Indigenous people in coastal areas can build resiliency to the dynamic forces resulting from climate change.”
The Rising Voices, Changing Coasts hub’s goals are to improve modeling and prediction of coastal processes to support decision-making by Indigenous communities, develop a framework for cross-cultural collaboration that can be adopted in the future, train the next generation of Indigenous researchers, and increase the infrastructure at Haskell needed to support future large research projects.
The hub will focus on place-based research in four regions: Alaska (Arctic), Louisiana (Gulf of Mexico), Hawai‘i (Pacific Islands), and Puerto Rico (Caribbean Islands). It will combine Indigenous knowledge, modeling capabilities, archeological records, geographic information system techniques, socio-economic analysis and hazards research. Together, these data, transdisciplinary analysis and convergent findings will enhance fundamental understanding of the interconnected physical, cultural, social and economic processes that result in coastal hazards and climate resilience opportunities, and increase the accuracy, relevance and usability of model predictions on multi-decadal timescales.
The Haskell Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit serving the university, secured the project’s funding. “This award is wonderful and critically important today,” said Haskell Foundation Director Aaron Hove. “It cements Haskell’s leadership role in Indigenous Climate Change research and demonstrates what a small institution can accomplish when it builds relationships with internationally known research institutions like the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Scripps Research Institute and large research universities.”
“This research hub is a significant part of the growing recognition that traditional ecological knowledges and Indigenous knowledges should be a part of the science that is being done today regarding global climate change,” noted Dr. Daniel R. Wildcat, Haskell faculty member and the hub’s lead investigator. “It is a game changer for Indigenous peoples. We have been advocating for years that we need a seat at the table in scientific discussions regarding climate. I think the funding for this hub allows Indigenous knowledge holders to build their own table and invite leading academic trained scientists to take a seat.”
In addition to Haskell Indian Nations University, as the lead institution, partners in the hub are: NCAR and its Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group, and community partners in the four targeted regions.
Over the past 2 decades, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has consistently funded White researchers at higher rates than researchers from other racial and ethnic groups, according to a new study that has not yet been peer-reviewed (OSF Preprints 2022, DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/xb57u).
The study also found that White principal investigators (PIs) have secured NSF funding at increasing rates since at least 1999, a finding that contrasts with a common sentiment among White researchers that they have had more difficulty acquiring funding over time, says Christine Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the work.
I am a policy expert who studies international research collaboration as it relates to global problems and geopolitical polarization. I understand the need for democratic countries to respond to the the growing strength of authoritarian countries such as China and acute crises like the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But reducing or stopping international research comes with its own risks. It slows down the production of knowledge needed to address long-term global problems and reduces the potential for future scientific collaboration.
First, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to an increased openness in global scientific exchange. In particular, there was growth in the number of students from developing and non-Western countries going to universities in the West. This movement formed networks of researchers from many countries. Second, massively collaborative scientific efforts – such as the Human Genome Project – as well as the ever-growing importance of expensive, large research laboratories and instruments have fueled international collaboration. Finally, the digital revolution has made it much easier to communicate and share data across borders. This all resulted in collaborative and fruitful research in many fields including gene technology, climate science and artificial intelligence.
In the latter half of the 20th century, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many other nations all significantly improved their scientific capabilities. In doing so they have greatly contributed to human knowledge. China in particular has invested heavily in its scientific capabilities and today is the world’s largest producer of scientific publications.
The development of scientific capacity in many parts of the world and the building of academic ties is critical when it comes to responding to a new virus or tracking changes in climate. The more countries that share data and coordinate policy responses, the easier it should be to contain a virus or understand global warming.
In May 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it. Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”
China’s rise in science and technology has been met with stern responses from the West. Australia passed legislation in 2020 that gave the federal government veto power over foreign agreements in research. In the U.S., the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 was designed to reduce dependence on China for emerging and foundational technologies.
Science as a tool of politics
Given this framing of research as a part of international competition between China and the West, it is not surprising that science is increasingly being used as a political tool.
The U.S. government has taken significant steps to try to limit China’s scientific progress and international influence. In 2018, the U.S. launched a large-scale anti-espionage effort called the China Initiative. Under this initiative, the FBI broadly investigated U.S.-Chinese links within the corporate and academic sectors. The China Initiative failed to find any Chinese spies. But three U.S.-based scholars were convicted for failing to disclose Chinese ties.
China is also using science, technology and scholarly research generally to serve national interests. The government has explicitly pushed the idea that research shall primarily serve national needs, and Chinese scholars are increasingly under political control. In 2021 there were 18 research centers devoted to studying and promoting Xi Jinping’s ideas on matters such as rule of law, economics and green development.
Many researchers in the U.S., Europe and China have voiced concerns that geopolitical rivalries are curtailing international research collaboration at a time when the world needs it the most.
There is a major risk that the impediments to international scientific collaboration will further increase, further harming data sharing, the quality of research and the ability to disseminate results that contributing to solving problems. I often hear researchers, university leaders and funding agencies in Europe, the U.S. and China vent their frustration with the current situation. Many in the research community would like to see a more open and global science landscape.
It is possible to work toward a future where science is more separate – but not naively isolated – from changing power dynamics. As issues like climate change increase in severity, it will become only more important that researchers build international relationships that are responsible, reciprocal, transparent and equitable.
In just five months, Russia’s war on Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and ruptured global geopolitics and economics. It is marking science, too. The heaviest impacts are in Ukraine, where researchers have seen their institutions bombed and are facing upheaval and threats to their livelihoods. In Russia, scientists are contending with boycotts and sanctions in response to their country’s actions. More widely, the crisis has created economic and political rifts that have already affected research in physics, space, climate science, food security and energy. A prolonged conflict could foment a significant realignment of scientific-collaboration patterns.