Growing complexity of global scientific relationships

Larry Marshall, CSIRO Executive Director has an anecdote he likes to tell about the national science agency’s research relationship with the Chinese Academy of Sciences as a fundamental story of Australia’s scientific connection with the People’s Republic of China.

Australia, he says, has had research links through CSIRO for almost 50 years, established in Whitlam’s time when a delegation from the Chinese Academy of Sciences visited facilities in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. .

The Chinese Academy of Sciences is now much larger than CSIRO, but Australia has had an oversized scientific relationship with China ever since.

At the start of his first five-year appointment at CSIRO, Dr. Marshall had occasion to ask a director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences “why are you wasting your time with us? We are so small.

Last Wednesday at the National Press Club in Canberra, Dr Marshall said the response he got from the Chinese was ‘because when we were little you spent time with us – and we always cherished that’.

CSIRO Executive Director, Dr. Larry Marshall

I’ve heard this story a few times now, delivered with conviction to explain the importance of relations with China, especially as research and technological innovation has moved from West to East over the past two decades.

But in 2022, as geopolitical competition intensifies, the questions become more pointed. This is particularly the case in Canberra.

If China’s scientific leaders spoke of cherishing the relationship early in his tenure at CSIRO, Dr. Marshall reciprocates. Investment in this scientific relationship in China continues to generate value.

There was a specific advantage in the early days of Covid, and there is continued value and advantage in research-driven global challenges like climate change or industrial renewable energy research.

The direct relationship CSIRO had through its Australian Center for Disease Preparedness with the Chinese Academy’s Wuhan Institute of Virology enabled Australian scientists to work on COVID-19 response work from the outset. 19.

As a scientific entrepreneur with a background in venture capital, Dr. Marshall is an ever-full optimist, and he is a master explainer of the role of science in industry, in the economy and in society.

And while the Press Club is a tricky gig, with an in-hall audience that doesn’t always match home TV audiences, in Canberra at least, China’s story isn’t going quite as well as it did. ‘in 2015 during the good times.

Either way, the message is just enough. CSIRO does not hesitate to work with its scientific partners based in China on common challenges.

“I think science just has this wonderful way of breaking down those barriers,” the Press Club said last Wednesday. “China needs us. We have amazing climate solutions, [and] for the environment, and these are common problems.

“So I think if we can use this story [of CSIRO-China collaborations] and on this basis, we can overcome geopolitical challenges in the future. Because we have to solve these common problems,” he said.

“On things that are a global challenge like solving a pandemic, or climate change, global issues, then absolutely we will work with China – as we have for five decades – and absolutely we will work with the states -United.”

Dr. Marshall’s speech at the Press Club coincided with the launch of CSIRO’s Global Megatrends Report Our future worldan article that details geopolitical changes as one of seven ‘mega-trends’ facing Australia and the world.

This chapter on geopolitical changes covers everything from cybersecurity challenges and future supply chain risks associated with maritime commerce, to increased investment in defense capabilities and increased collaboration between democratic nations.

It also identifies the uncertainty surrounding future flows of scientific knowledge.

“The global share of articles published with authors from more than one country increased from 18.6% in 2011 to 23.5% in 2019, but it is unclear what impact the pandemic will have on long-term international collaborations.

“Despite the initial increase in multi-country articles in 2020, particularly for articles related to COVID-19, emerging geopolitical tensions and travel restrictions subsequently hampered international collaborations.

“The number of Chinese publications with American co-authors has also been declining since 2017 and the number of American publications with Chinese co-authors decreased for the first time in 2020.

“Siloed science efforts in the future could lead to duplicated research efforts and wasted resources, both of which pose potential risks.”

The bifurcation of scientific effort comes at a time when emerging technologies are rocking the strategic defense arena, as the CSIRO report also identified. It is, as Press Club director Steve Lewis pointed out in a question to Dr. Marshall last Wednesday, a technological arms race.

Defense strategy and planning are influenced by scientific and technological advances in (a) high-velocity, variable-trajectory, precise-targeting missiles; (b) artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced autonomous systems; and (c) cyber/information warfare, the report says.

These technologies are already used in today’s warfare and gray area conflicts.

Regardless of long-standing relationships, scientific collaborations are becoming more complex, more difficult.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email.

Sharon D. Cole