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Balancing Scientific Openness with Security

NSF-Commissioned JASON Report Recommends Broadening the Scope of ‘Research Integrity’

A new report commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) takes a responsible look at how best to secure the United States’ scientific and technological treasures and offers some helpful suggestions that the entire scientific community should be able to support. This past summer, NSF asked the JASON advisory group, which is a group of highly respected scientists who have historically advised the federal government on scientific and technological matters with national security implications, to study issues related to preserving scientific openness while ensuring security.

In part, NSF commissioned the report to address specific worries about some foreign governments and researchers who may have abused the openness and collaboration that has always marked the United States’ research enterprise. AAU and other academic and scientific organizations are urging policymakers to ensure that any responses to these threats carefully balance security with the need to maintain the free exchange of scientific knowledge and the flow of international science talent to our shores.

The team from JASON recognizes this. The report asserts: “JASON concludes that many of the problems of foreign influence that have been identified are ones that can be addressed within the framework of research integrity, and that the benefits of openness in research and of the inclusion of talented foreign researchers dictate against measures that would wall off particular areas of fundamental research.” To protect scientific openness, it recommends reaffirming the core principles set forth in National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 189, which establishes a clear distinction between classified and fundamental research.

The JASON report also notes that the U.S. research enterprise is under threat from a handful of nations that are taking advantage of openness and the free flow of research information without simultaneously adhering to the values of transparency, fair competition, and reciprocity. In response, the report makes a significant new recommendation: broadening the scope of “research integrity” to include “full disclosure of commitments and actual or potential conflicts of interest.” The report goes on to state that potential or perceived conflicts may go beyond financial issues – including collaborative relationships or obligations with foreign governmental and non-governmental entities, including universities. The report recommends that the NSF and universities should treat failure to disclose foreign affiliations or any potential or perceived conflicts of interest the same way they currently treat cases of scientific misconduct.

AAU is encouraged by this report, and we will continue to urge Congress and policymakers in the Executive Branch to balance the values of openness and collaboration with the need to ensure research security and integrity.