Great power rivalries and the potential for new technologies to be applied on the battlefield are impacting Australian science research and collaborations, the Academy of Science warns.
In a paper setting a context for a conference next week on globalised science, the Academy suggests that while international agreements and government regulation can manage access of information on lethal technologies, it is less easy to control distribution of basic research with defence potential. It points to the power of multi-purpose tech platforms that can cover civil and military purposes, such as Elon Musk’s Star Link.
The Academy also warns that the “polarisation and oversimplification of scientific knowledge” through the media, “compel the public into a binary agreement; yes or no, agree or disagree.”
Overall, the report suggests five risks to national science systems,
- Foreign interference through soft power or direct action;
- Nations competing for science talent;
- The race to protect data and technology from hostiles;
- Regulation, as governments “take steps to reduce risks of interdependent science, technology, and innovation”; and
- Compromised national sovereignty by “over-reliance” on international collaboration.
However, the report also found that there are positives, from a “multipolar science system,” including:
- Digitalising knowledge democratises access;
- Collaboration strengthens domestic ecosystems, “it is rare for a single nation to have all the talent and infrastructure”; and
- Global challenges require multi-national scientific cooperation.
One key take-out is that if scientists only collaborated with allied nations it, “would hinder their ability to accelerate progress on global challenges by sharing ideas and resources with other scientists.”
“Most importantly, Australia would stand to lose out on a deeper understanding of other nations, not just in terms of technological development and military modernisation but also in terms of their people’s aspirations and goals.”