Friday, March 11, 2011

The Future of Nationless Science

Successful communicators are subject matter experts. Staying current on the issues makes us better partners with the technology leaders with whom we work. That's why PCG staff spends a lot of time keeping up on energy-related topics - and we’ve got the air miles to prove it. In the last month, we've attended the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Platts Nuclear Energy Conference, Waste Management Symposia and the Regulatory Information Conference.

Every one of these meetings touched on the global nature of today's energy and environmental challenges. They drew record attendance numbers and attracted international participants. The sessions revealed trends that point to the fact that science today happens beyond national borders. Researchers are working together to investigate shared scientific challenges.

Global networks of scientists, engineers and policy makers are looking for solutions to growing energy demand, threatened food security and dwindling water supplies. Meanwhile, poor student performance in the United States in math and science has recruiters wondering where we will get our next generation of these science professionals. Caroline Wagner offered a fresh perspective on the perceived conflict at the AAAS meeting.

As a panelist, she shared her research findings published in her book, The New Invisible College. The Penn State associate professor of international affairs described how the landscape for research is changing. From 1996 to 2008, Wagner showed that the share of US contributions to scientific publishing had dropped 20 percent. The change was not because the US was less productive. Rather, as populous countries such as India and China invest in research, these countries will outpace American in terms of research paper output.

It's a numbers game that cannot be won by increasing US output. Instead, Wagner made the case for knowledge sharing strategies that would improve the quality of scientific investigation worldwide. We can hope the range of internationally attended conferences we seeing today reflects this trend. Tapping the most knowledgeable experts with the best skills on a topic - wherever they are - could benefit the entire science system as we figure out how to implement global solutions to global problems.

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