Big science may be at risk

February 20, 1998

It would take the high-profile collapse of just one big collaborative science project for the whole system of joint funding for massive research facilities to be brought into question.

Luke Georghiou, director of Policy Research in Engineering, Science and Technology at Manchester University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia this week that big science, such as particle physics and astronomy, was saving itself via global collaboration. A project may be too expensive for one country, but joint international funding can establish centres such as Cern at Geneva.

However, Professor Georghiou warned that just one partner's withdrawal could render a facility useless. "One high-profile collapse may call into question the whole thing. I wonder if the International ThermoNuclear Experimental Reactor will be the one."

Professor Georghiou also revealed the results of a PREST survey, due to be published in the next few weeks, looking at collaboration between European researchers and scientists in other developed countries. He said that in Europe and the United States, the number of scientific papers with international co-authors has doubled in the past decade, and 10 per cent of all European scientific publications now have a US co-author. Collaboration between European scientists and Japan and Korea has also risen.

Most collaborations are on an informal level, between individual scientists, and on an intercontinental scale, often with researcher exchanges. The most common reason for collaboration is to learn from a colleague. Other reasons cited include access to research opportunities and sharing costs and resources.

l German scientists consulted on the nation's future science priorities as part of their Foresight exercise think objectively rather than as individuals.

Hariolf Grupp, deputy director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Innovation in Karlsruhe, Germany, told the AAAS: "Many experts in Germany think this kind of exercise is not useful. They wonder whether experts follow their personal view for the future or are objective. We thought people would have individual priorities; they do not."

In the German Foresight, to be published this week, most of the 2,300 scientists consulted fitted just four types of outlook, but the outlook made no difference to the selection of scientific priorities. Plans are being made for the next UK Foresight to start next year.

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