G7 leaders including Rishi Sunak, Ursula von der Leyen, Justin Trudeau, Joe Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meet in Japan. Image: wiki media commons
A meeting of science ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies held in Sendai, Japan, last week called for appropriate rules to protect against “outside interference” in international education and research to improve research security and integrity.
‘Outside interference’ mainly refers to activities that can affect the academic freedom of scholars and leaks of sensitive high technologies to China.
The ministers highlighted the importance of “Trustworthy scientific research” by ensuring research security and research integrity.
“We believe that openness is fundamental, security is essential, and freedom and integrity are crucial,” the G7 science ministers said in their joint communiqué issued after the Sendai meeting held from 12 to 14 May.
The ministers’ joint communiqué was set to feed into the G7 Summit in Hiroshima from 19 to 21 May, where leaders of G7 countries were set to discuss research collaboration to strengthen national security and global diplomacy.
The G7 was also due to discuss coordination to counter China’s use of ‘economic coercion’ in its dealings abroad. The United States accuses China of technology theft and is restricting exchanges.
Hiroshima was selected for the summit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is the G7 chair this year.
He is a native of the city that is a symbol of world peace since the atomic bomb of August 1945.
G7 countries, which include Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy and France, represent 40% of the world’s gross domestic product.
Open science is viewed as expanding global knowledge to tackle global challenges such as climate change and infectious diseases. But sharing critical data and advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, particularly dual-use technologies that can have both civilian and military use, can pose a threat to national security, the science ministers said.
“We share a growing concern that some actors may attempt to unfairly exploit or distort the open research environment and misappropriate research results for economic, strategic, geopolitical or military purposes,” the G7 science ministers said in their statement, noting: “This undermines the principles and values that underpin open, transparent, reciprocal and accountable international research cooperation and the integrity of research and may pose security risks.”
“Addressing this concern should be based on informed decision-making and appropriate risk mitigation measures by G7 and other partners to continuously promote safe, secure and open international cooperation in research and innovation,” the statement said without naming any particular country.
G7 members are already working together to reach a common understanding of, for example, values and principles in research.
Transparency and openness of research
The ministers emphasised the importance of transparency and inclusiveness in research and underlined values-based research and research collaboration with countries that share these values. G7 science ministers meeting last year in Frankfurt, Germany, had stressed freedom and democracy as the values on which scientific exchange should be based, an emphasis which is seen as a move away from autocratic countries such as China.
Last week G7 science ministers reiterated: “We recognise openness, freedom and inclusiveness should be enhanced globally for the sound development of scientific research.
“When making decisions about openness, the respect for universal human rights and the protection of national security are essential, and principles and rules related to academic freedom, research integrity, privacy and protection of intellectual property rights should be applied and upheld,” the science ministers said.
The science ministers also put their weight behind open science to enable “Immediate open and public access to government-funded scholarly publications and scientific data” and supported the efforts of the scientific community “To address challenges in scholarly publishing for broader sharing of appropriate scientific outputs”.
To this end, the ministers backed the G7 Open Science Working Group which is looking at interoperability and sustainable infrastructure for research outputs, including research assessment approaches that reward open science practices.
“This is so that researchers and people throughout the world can benefit from them as well as contribute to the creation of new knowledge, stimulation of innovation, the democratisation of access to knowledge by society and the development of solutions for global challenges,” the ministers said. “This will also help to build more reproducible and trusted research results.”
Sharing research vs protecting national security
Akiyoshi Yonezawa, vice-director of the International Strategy Office at Tohoku University in Sendai, emphasised the need to balance academic freedom and sharing research for open science with protecting information and data that could affect national security.
“Academic freedom is important to protect transparency and fairness in the internationalisation of higher education,” he told University World News. “To protect research security, top-down initiatives alone are not enough. Rather, opening up knowledge for the benefit of global society is the goal of researchers.”
“Research integrity to promote trust and adherence to research principles and practices can be protected by creating common values through the fostering of exchanges with researchers,” Yonezawa said.
Tohoku, a leading public university and research hub with a particular focus on science and engineering, promotes open science as a basic principle in international joint research with diverse partners.
Yonezawa said the way forward was to increase university interaction with governments and industry to build common values and create an environment of trust and responsibility. “Technologies could have multiple uses. The way forward is to develop a deep understanding of the value of open research,” he said.
With the focus on balancing academic freedom with the beefed-up role of research in national security, Tohoku University has also developed a code for responsible conduct of research activities that expect researchers to adhere to social norms, laws and ordinances and fulfil their social responsibility as researchers.
Japan’s Research Security Rules
“The Ukraine war that has raised the threat of Russia has drastically changed the outlook of Japan’s national security. Academics are aware of the need to boost defence and yet are sensitive to the impact on academic freedom,” Shun Ishihara, professor of sociology at Meiji Gakuin University in Japan, told University World News. He pointed to pressure on the government to find a responsible balance.
Japan crafted its own new rules for researchers in 2020 to control the risk of inappropriate foreign influence on university research. Among the changes are rules that require researchers to disclose funding sources and researcher affiliations. But the impact of tightened scrutiny on international research collaboration has also been a concern for Japanese scholars.
In 2015 Japan also developed a separate defence research fund for universities and researchers to support its active role in global diplomacy. The fund supports dual-purpose science and technology research that can have both military and civilian applications.
A statement released by the Japan Association of National Universities pointed out last November that internationalisation of education and research may carry risks, but that research is conducted “based on a profound understanding of the importance of open science and the value of international research cooperation”.
Japan’s national universities receive massive public funding that puts them at the forefront of the country’s science and technology research. The universities also conduct joint projects with counterparts around the world. China leads in the number of university exchange programmes with Japan: 8,899 exchanges in 2020. The US, in second position, was involved in 5,142 exchanges with Japan, according to Japan’s Ministry of Education.
Universities’ Role in Peace-building
Geopolitical configurations are having an impact on research and research security. Japan is a close ally in the G7 united front to combat the influence of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia. The European Union is supporting Ukraine which has been fighting the Russian invasion since February 2022, and Japan is set to host a NATO office in Tokyo this year, a move that has been criticised by China.
Motohiro Tsuchiya, vice president for global engagement at Japan’s Keio University and an expert on cyber security, believes the role of researchers is to provide a voice and ideas to support government decisions for an open and rules-based world.
“Scientific and social science research provides valuable technology and other lessons to leaders based on data and history. For example, providing alternative solutions to violence such as wars helps leaders to navigate the tragedies of the past,” he told University World News.
Moscow’s threat of a nuclear war currently looms in the ongoing Ukraine war. Tsuchiya believes researchers as advisors are crucial for Japan, which supports peace and democracy given its experience of World War II which destroyed the nation.
“Prime Minister Kishida’s choice of Hiroshima, a peace symbol for the G7 Summit, is a case in point. Japan is keen to follow steps that support a democratic and open East Asia, and that includes its strategy with China,” said Tsuchiya.
University World News