Multilateral science

27/Feb/2016

These days, one scientific study out of twelve comes from China. The growth of scientific production in Asia is unprecedented, and it has already upset the world’s research scene.

(From "Horizons" no. 108 March 2016)

In this quest for knowledge, advantages abound under authoritarian systems of government. In particular, they allow for the rapid implementation of enormous nationwide programmes, such as personalised medicine and cloning in China, the 'creative economy' in South Korea, or the gleaming new technological institutes in Saudi Arabia.

All these science-hungry countries are investing heavily in R&D. They are also all developing strategies to increase their competitiveness. Some offer more flexible regulations for life science research. Others focus on applied research by bringing together public institutions and private actors, or by putting money on the table not only to attract researchers from the world’s best universities, but also to encourage those same universities to open satellite campuses. With so many new models around, the West may find its own research support policies confronted, or even influenced.

The world’s new science powers are still focusing greatly on applied research, largely neglecting the humanities and social sciences, and sometimes stifling critical studies. This utilitarian approach is alarming. The challenge "We will clone a human before you!" – laid down by a Chinese researcher following a sumptuous dinner – shows how the new world order of science is being reshaped by ideas diametrically opposed to our own ethical considerations. Faced with this situation, our response should not be one of disdain, but one of anticipation: what will a global and multilateral science mean for us?

Daniel Saraga, chief editor