G7 ministers call for rules to improve research security

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 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 with a view to strengthening 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.

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