Rivalry wrecks high-tech global science links

February 5, 1999

New technologies mean science research can now be a global undertaking, but international high-tech collaborations rarely work without a history of camaraderie, new research suggests.

Gary Olson, professor in the school of information at the University of Michigan, helps establish high-tech international collaborations, providing the technology and support so that diverse academic groups in a number of countries can work in partnership.

He also monitors the partnerships in a bid to learn what works socially and technically.

"There already has to be collaboration for this to work," Professor Olson told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim, California.

"Where there was no collaboration in advance, we don't have an example of this kind of relationship working."

He pointed to attempts the group has made to establish an online collaboration among Aids researchers. "We have tried three times and twice it has not worked. There has been so much competition in previous generations that they were not yet ready to collaborate. There has been hype for years about what will be possible for research using these technologies, but we are only now beginning to see serious productive collaboration on the internet," he explained.

"If the criterion is not just dabbling, but using the internet and technologies for really serious work, then it really has only been in the past two or three years."

He added that the potential for developing world scientists to link up with colleagues in the more developed world was beginning to be realised. For such collaborations to work, said Professor Olson, cultural barriers had to be overcome, and the technology had to be introduced in stages, starting with the most basic and working towards more complex situations such as hands-off and synchronous collaborations.

"Having a real need to collaborate is also important if this is going to work," he said.

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