The U.S. and China are the world's biggest spenders on R&D but still only make up about half of the global investment in research, a recent report highlights.
The big picture: Competition between the two countries — measured by published papers, patents, educational degrees or the extent of investment — dominates discussions about global progress in science and technology.
- That ignores significant R&D spending by a handful of countries that could be potential collaborators, Melissa Flagg of Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology argues.
What's happening: Spending on R&D has grown around the world over the last 30 years and, at the same time, the U.S. share of global R&D fell.
- China and the U.S. each accounted for about one-quarter of global R&D spending in 2018, according to the CSET report, which draws on data from OECD.
- "The R&D spending of the United States and just six like-minded nations with a true commitment to R&D funding represents more than 50 percent of global R&D investment," Flagg writes. She cites Japan and Germany as traditional heavy hitters but also countries like South Korea, which spent upward of 3.8% of their GDP on R&D.
Why it matters: Flagg argues that that reality is an opportunity for the U.S. to formally partner with countries and set standards and values around sharing data, transparency, reproducibility and research integrity.
- The issue is of top concern because in international collaborations and open scientific exchange, some researchers or programs have not held the same values, jeopardizing U.S. research.
Historically, formal science and technology alliances came out of larger political ones and were taken for granted, says Flagg. "If you really believe technology is a foundation for critical aspects of leadership globally, economic security and military capability, then you can’t just have this be a sidebar for politicians."
The bottom line: "No nation will enjoy complete global technological dominance," Flagg writes.