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The United States, Europe and the Globalization of Science

While nations are at times territorial about their own research programs, the trend toward a global scientific community is unmistakable, AAAS chief executive officer Alan I. Leshner wrote in a commentary published in La Stampa prior to the 2 July opening of the Euroscience Open Forum 2010 (ESOF2010) in Turin, Italy.

Already half of European research papers and 30% of American research papers have international co-authors, Leshner noted. International research teams are becoming much more common, from one-on-one collaborations to the huge teams involved in projects such as the Large Hadron Collider and ITER

“Given that all of society’s biggest issues are global in character, and particularly at a time of tight budgets, it is essential for scientists to work internationally to tackle the big questions in such fields as health, agriculture, biotechnology and nanotechnology,” Leshner wrote 27 June in La Stampa, an influential Italian daily published in Turin. “More than ever, global issues call for global responses.”

The Euroscience Open Forum is a biennial, pan-European meeting dedicated to scientific research and innovation. Previous meetings have been held in Stockholm, Munich, and Barcelona. The 2012 meeting will be held in Dublin. Leshner will speak at two symposia during the 2-7 July meeting in Turin. Peter Agre, the chair of the AAAS Board of Directors, will give a plenary talk on Sunday, 4 July.

While scientists from the United States and Europe have a long history of working together, Leshner wrote in his commentary, there still is room to improve and expand trans-Atlantic partnerships, both to increase funding opportunities for scientists and to undertake the next steps toward building a truly global scientific community.

A new initiative by the AAAS and its European Union partners called BILAT-USA, coordinated by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, aims to improve trans-Atlantic dialogue among scientists and increase U.S. participation in the EU’s main program for funding research and development, Leshner noted. Of the 7,000 projects approved so far under that seven-year funding program, called the 7th Framework Programme, about 260 of them have U.S. participants.

A complementary effort called Link2US, coordinated by the AAAS International Office, seeks to raise awareness among European scientists about cooperative research funding opportunities in the United States. It is less about match-making between individual researchers, Leshner wrote, and more about creating venues—such as a recently launched electronic portal—where European scientists can quickly learn about funding programs of the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other U.S. science agencies.

There are inevitable bureaucratic obstacles to scientific collaboration across borders, Leshner says, but such cooperation is one of the imperatives of the 21st century, both to give governments the best possible advice on urgent issues such as climate change and to help foster the economic prosperity that flows from a commitment to high-quality research and development.


Read the ESOF2010 special section in La Stampa with Leshner’s commentary.

Read the unedited English-language version of the Leshner commentary submitted to La Stampa.