Academics are warning that proposed measures by the US administration to restrict Chinese researchers’ access to the US could ‘stifle’ global progress.
The US Government is reported to be considering steps to restrict Chinese citizens from carrying out sensitive research at American universities and research institutes.
Researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Warwick and the London School of Economics (LSE), drawing parallels with the sharp decline in international scientific cooperation after World War I, warn that a similar impact could be seen today if such barriers are put in place by the US.
Research carried out by Carlo Schwarz from the University of Warwick, Dr Fabian Waldinger from LSE, and Alessandro Iaria, Lecturer in Economics from the University of Bristol and published in the Harvard Quarterly Journal of Economics, considered the impact of the First World War on scientific co-operation.
Frontier Knowledge and Scientific Production: Evidence from the Collapse of International Science argues that increased barriers to international scientific co-operation during the war and the subsequent international boycott of Central scientists not only slowed down the production of basic science, but also harmed the application of science in the development of new technologies.
At the start of the war, the world split into the Allied (United Kingdom, France, later the United States, and several smaller countries) and the Central (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria) camps. The involvement of scientists in the development of chemical weapons, and the extremely nationalistic stance taken by many in support of their homeland, pitted the opposing scientific camps against each other. Immediately after the end of the war, Allied scientists enforced a boycott against Central scientists, which separated scientists into opposing camps until the mid-1920s.
Importantly, the boycott not only affected Central scientists, but had a negative impact on the entire international scientific community. Affected scientists produced fewer scientific breakthroughs, measured by the introduction of novel words in paper titles and by nominations for a Nobel Prize, and fewer of their scientific discoveries found application in patents.
Those scientists who had relied on cutting-edge research from abroad published fewer papers than scientists who historically worked with research from their home country. For example, US biochemists who relied on research from Germany saw their productivity decline by 33 per cent compared to US biologists who used research from counterparts in America.
Alessandro Iaria, Lecturer in Economics from the University of Bristol, said: “Our results suggest that science policy should be geared toward facilitating access to and capitalising on the potential catalytic effects of cutting-edge research in enhancing scientific progress. The global academic community has real concerns that a boycott on Chinese researchers could stifle this progress.
“While the overall effects of such a boycott are hard to estimate, there are lessons from history that can inform policy makers about the possible long-term effects for scientific progress and technological innovation.”
Carlo Schwarz, from the University of Warwick, added: “The unique historic period allows us to study the significance of international scientific cooperation. Isaac Newton famously said that in his research he was ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. Our work highlights the importance of access to the best existing scientific ideas for the creation of new research.”
14 May 2018
‘Frontier Knowledge and Scientific Production: Evidence from the Collapse of International Science’ by Alessandro Iaria, Carlo Schwarz and Fabian Waldinger in The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
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Sheila Kiggins, Media Relations Manager at the University of Warwick, on 02476 150423 / 07876 218166 and S.Kiggins@warwick.ac.uk
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