Global science needs to not be treated as a pawn

Cooperation in Science: The Golden Age of Covied-19, Vaccines, and Open Markets in the United States and in Africa

It looks like we are in a new golden age for science cooperation according to the headlines of this month. The European Commission confirmed last week that work on a strategy for science diplomacy will be finalized next year. The US National Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences have teamed up to provide more funding support to researchers from Ukraine. The United States is interested in investing in electric-vehicle battery manufacturing in Africa, and several African countries have committed to expanding cooperation in space science.

During the visit of China’s president to Saudi Arabia in December, there was also discussion of cooperation on space, nuclear energy and meteorology. The 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity ended in Montreal, Canada, this week with a new plan to halt and eventually reverse the decline of species.

But the COVID-19 pandemic continued to provide textbook examples of nations working in their own interests. The governments of a relatively small number of wealthy countries had already bought and hoarded vaccines from pharmaceutical companies in Europe and the United States (Nature 607, 211–212; 2022). Nature was proud to play a small part in opposing an international campaign urging the sharing of vaccines, therapies and intellectual property. Had they listened to the words of the World Health Organization’s Director Tedros Adhanom Ghefuji, more people in low income countries would have been exposed to the vaccine sooner.

It’s important for science, technology and innovation to be here. There are many excellent researchers in the Ukranian area. We must receive a clear signal from our politicians that we are needed, and that science will have a proper place in our national reconstruction.

Two years ago, China’s government ended incentives for its researchers to publish in international journals. It’s in no one’s interests to see China’s researchers isolated from their international counterparts. Sadly, this is starting to happen. The number of papers written by researchers in the US and China has been falling for the last 20 years. There has been a drop in the number of authors reporting dual US and China affiliations on their research papers, too.

The era of powerful countries encouraging open markets is what has led to the rivalry between the two countries. The United States is restricting sales by US companies (and non-US companies that use US technology) to China of the types of microchip that are used in artificial intelligence and supercomputing. It has placed restrictions on US citizens and residents working for Chinese technology companies. It encourages African countries to become an alternative base for technology cooperation because it wants them to partner with themselves. Last week, China retaliated by lodging a dispute with the World Trade Organization, the body that sets rules for international trade, arguing that the US move is a violation of free-trade rules that both countries have signed up to.

Pedro Conceio, an economist believes that the world is in a new uncertainty complex of war, climate risks and economic shocks. As a result, we are likely to see more instances of countries raising trade barriers and making moves to protect their economies, and more instances of nations using science and technology towards foreign-policy objectives.

That said, governments must accept that they have responsibilities to ensure the integrity of international cooperation in science-based policymaking. In the case of climate change, that responsibility now falls to the United Arab Emirates, which will take over the presidency of the next climate summit, COP28.

The Russian War in Ukraine began in February 2014. Now I am in Kyiv: Prenatal Screening at the Center for Medical Genetics and Prenatal Diagnosis

For my colleagues and me, the war in Ukraine did not begin on 24 February 2022. It started in 2014, when Russia installed a puppet government in the Donbas in the east of my country. The Center for Medical Genetics and PreNatal Diagnosis, a facility I founded and have headed for many years, was originally located in the capital of the north eastern part of the country.

My colleagues and I publicly expressed our pro-Ukrainian stance and refused to become an institution of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. We moved to Mariupol, 100 or so kilometres south in unoccupied Ukraine, and restarted work.

Our home and building were destroyed by the Russian invasion in March 2022, and my colleagues and I had apartments in the same building. Some of us managed to escape the city within days. Others, in particular those unable to leave elderly parents who had moved with them, stayed back in their basements waiting for help. We had a lot of uncertainty regarding their fate.

We survived all of the challenges. The centre might have been gone, but our knowledge and experience wasn’t captured. Some colleagues with children moved abroad, and others settled in friendly institutions in western Ukraine and continue to collaborate remotely. Our centre now operates in Kyiv, conducting prenatal screening and other types of genetic testing.


The fate of Ukrainian scientific research in the context of the first half of the war and the emergence of a new generation of scientists in the 21st century

The beginning of the full-scale war was the only time in my life when I regretted not joining the army because of their values, and most readers of this journal take for granted: freedom and independence. There are many volunteers, among whom my close friend physicist Anton Senenko is one.

I felt relief every time I read his updates of people who could be rescued, from Bucha just outside Kyiv, site of a notorious massacre in the early stages of the war, and from other places. Some scientists we knew have paid the ultimate price: just two weeks ago, it was confirmed that Bizhan Sharopov, a brilliant young physiologist colleague who had been missing in action since April, had been killed.

The courage shown by the Ukrainian people is beyond words. Suffering the grief of losing family members, staying in basements without water and food, living now often without light and heat, the whole Ukrainian people is enduring severe deprivation with dignity and unbroken spirit.

The scientists in Ukraine are integrated into the global scientific community. Foreign research grants have gone to a few of us. The British Academy and the Royal Society with the Council for At-Risk Academics have established the Researchers at Risk fellowship, which allowed me to carry on my research into the causes of pre-eclampsia. After victory, I hope the results will serve my country.

The consequences of the war are put on old problems. The Ministry of Education and Science, which is responsible for assessing the quality and integrity of Ukrainian scientific research, is not fit to perform those tasks. The minister of education and science was himself accused of plagiarism in his earlier scientific work, an allegation upheld by the Ukrainian National Agency for Quality Assurance of Higher Education, although the matter has since been contested on a procedural technicality in the courts. There must be zero tolerance for any corruption that could hurt the development of the country, particularly against the background of Ukraine applying for European Union membership.

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