Open scientific communication and university research are deeply rooted in the time honored principles of academic freedom which still spark emotional and polarizing debates on U.S. campuses’ anytime controls or impediments to open dissemination and collaboration are proposed.
Today’s debate however is not a matter of keeping innovation and science out of the public domain for easy public consumption. Rather, it’s about protecting intellectual property rights and keeping dual-use technologies (i.e., technologies that have both public and defense use) out of the hands of adversaries. Predatorial data mining programs, legacy free players, and winner-take-all intelligence operations makes university-based research particularly vulnerable to theft, infringement, compromise, and/or misappropriation at their earliest stage of development.
The prudence of continuing to adhere to those time-honored traditions and principles of academic freedom without regard for or factoring the ever growing complexities, intertwined interests, and vulnerabilities associated with the nanosecond and globally connected R&D environments in which attribution and intellectual property rights are being routinely outpaced, circumvented, and eroded should be the debates’ primary focus.
In this century, national debates about applying controls to university-based research emerged initially in 1945 and again in the early 1980’s. In each instance, the National Academies played a key role in facilitating and moderating those debates. But, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the notion of placing controls on university-based research and scientific communication emerged again, this time with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) serving as the facilitator to those timely and serious discussions.
In most every instance in which scientific controls vs. scientific openness were being debated nationally, the government expressed national security concerns by seeking to impose restrictions (controls) on the communication and/or dissemination of certain scientific research originating (developed) in U.S. universities. The government’s chief concern has been, and continues to be that because of their ready (largely open source) access to technical material and innovation evolving from pre-patented and/or pre-classified university research, certain foreign nations (and, foreign nationals) are gaining economic and military/defense advantages that can impair and/or undermine U.S. national security and serve to diminish (undermine) the U.S.’s ability to compete commercially, as well as the possibility of adversely affecting a university’s research standing, reputation, and image.
But, the traditional two-sided debate about university research, i.e., controls vs. no controls, has taken on additional and more complex dimensions of late. Increasingly sophisticated IT systems and computer programs permit instantaneous data mining, the results of which are that:
– A scientists’ decision about when, where, and the circumstances in which the product of their research is disseminated have become blurred and increasingly risky. This is especially relevant if the originator of the research/science has a personal or professional interest in sustaining control, attribution, use, and/or intellectual property rights.
– Know how, intangible assets, and intellectual property has outpaced tangible (physical) assets as the dominant source of value, revenue, (future) wealth creation and institution sustainability and routinely comprises 65+% of an organization’s (company, institution’s) market value.
– Sophisticated and predatorial open source data mining technologies aligned with global commercial (business, competitor) intelligence operations now render ideas and innovation (research) vulnerable to compromise, value – competitive advantage dilution and/or infringement at their earliest stages of development and well before conventional forms of intellectual property are applied or provide legal standing for recourse.
The fact that university-based research is of interest to (specifically targeted by) global (public, private, government) intelligence collection entities is not new. Unfortunately, some institutions still trivialize its impact and lean toward dismissing it as another government initiative to impede (or, apply controls to) university research that would, in effect, keep beneficial science out of the public domain.
Those expressing opposition or skepticism about government controls on open scientific communication often argue that in today’s highly advanced R&D environment, there is little need for anyone (economic adversaries or competitors) to engage in surreptitious activities or otherwise disguise their intent to access – collect university-based research because it’s often readily accessible, sometimes merely for the asking or through public domain sites, or one can merely wait until the results/findings are published or presented at professional seminars, or posted on the researchers’ website.
Open scientific communication (dissemination) of university-based research has traditionally been a two-sided debate:
On one side stood those who argued that it has resulted in a net flow of scientific and technical information to other countries including economic adversaries and competitors. Those favoring less openness by imposing controls and/or limitations sought stronger national security policies to safeguard that scientific knowledge, innovation, and subsequent discoveries.
On the other side of the debate stood those who expressed concern that imposing (any) controls and/or constraints on the unfettered flow of scientific information within and between university research communities, in the name of national security would (a.) adversely affect the traditional operational environment (posture) of higher education institutions, (b.) reduce scientists’ incentives to produce innovation and bring their findings to new markets, and (c.) make it harder to replicate and confirm research findings.
Proponents of openness also argue that science is best served (advanced) through transparency and broad criticism to expose weaknesses and flaws, identify necessary improvements, or even outright rejection. This can only occur, proponents of openness suggest, by upholding the principles of academic freedom which favors unfettered sharing – dissemination of research methodologies and findings.
A former Deputy Director of the CIA aptly characterized the situation in the following manner, which still has relevance today; ‘there is an overlap between technological innovation and national security which inevitably produces tension. This tension results from scientist’s desire for unconstrained research and publication on the one hand, and the federal government’s need to protect certain information from potential adversaries who might use that information against the U.S. Both are powerful forces. Thus, it would be a surprise that finding a workable and just balance between them is quite difficult’.
Progress in science is generally premised on the free, open exchange, and widest possible sharing of findings. Achieving a practical and viable balance between ‘openness’ and imposing ‘controls’ on university-based research remains a useful debate, especially today as (a.) the life-functional (value) cycles of knowledge-based assets is increasingly abbreviated, and (b.) the traditions of open scientific exchange are being challenged by legacy free players with differing perspectives and respect for intellectual property rights and how to gain economic – competitive (and military/defense) advantages and market dominance.
But, are the traditional arguments still relevant and what’s needed to advance the two-sided debate? It is of little value to merely rehash the time-honored and polarizing positions by pitting those favoring controls on scientific communication against those seeking to retain complete and unfettered openness. At minimum, the traditional for – against arguments have become blurred, increasingly complex, and even perhaps obsolete! Consequently, continuing to frame university research and open scientific communication in narrow, two-sided contexts:
does little to advance the discussion beyond its 16th century origins when academics sought independence from church doctrine in terms of their study and research.
neglects to consider the adverse impact-effect of the proliferation of ultra-sophisticated, aggressive, and globally predatorial state-corporate sponsored economic and competitor intelligence operations.
overlooks the fact that most government sponsored intelligence agencies (globally) have included acquisition of economic – business intelligence and public/private/government research as integral elements of their tasking.
does not recognize the economic fact – business reality that 65+% of company – institution value, sources of revenue, and future wealth creation (sustainability) today lie in – are directly linked to intangible assets and intellectual property.
Should Colleges and Universities Care?
In the ‘global (business – transaction) economy no longer is there any practical or useful distinction between national economic relations and international economic relations. Most national economies, like that of the U.S., are no longer islands where domestic preferences alone dictate outcomes.
Similarly, the perception that university-based research is removed from all worldly concerns, vulnerabilities, and risks to misappropriation, infringement, economic espionage, targeting by adversary (terrorist) organizations, etc., belongs more to wishful thinking than reality.
Legislation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (Cooperative Research and Development Agreements – CRADA’s, etc.) prompted significant interest in commercializing academic (university-based) research. At the time, university-based scientists were encouraged to collaborate with (private) industry to speed the transfer – commercialization of ideas from academia to the marketplace, particularly new technologies with dual-use capabilities to facilitate – ensure the intellectual resources developed within university research communities would contribute to economic competitiveness. (Is Science For Sale?: Transferring Technology From Universities to Foreign Corporations. Report by the Committee on Governmental Operations. October 16, 1992. House Report 102-1052)
Today’s goods and services routinely demand such high technology content to remain competitive, fewer companies can afford mastery of all the technologies required for commercialization and manufacturing. One outcome, as conveyed above, is an increase in alliances, consortiums, and various forms of collaborative relationships between universities and corporations globally. This level of collaboration is now actively shaping the competitive arena in many industries, i.e., competition in a different form!
Another outcome is that a growing number of universities are becoming more ‘entrepreneurial spirited’ in terms of their interest (receptivity) to consider – pursue new collaborative opportunities to secure research support. As reported by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), the growth in academic technology transfer is having a positive impact, i.e., companies are investing in technologies licensed by academic institutions. Such investments yield jobs and economic growth and benefit the public and the communities that the universities serve.
In some instances, the royalties generated can (a.) provide incentives to researchers and scientists, (b.) contribute to reimbursing the institutions’ considerable technology transfer costs, e.g., patenting and licensing, and (c.) be reinvested in research and teaching, thus ensuring future advances are more probable.
In future debates regarding open scientific communication and academic freedom it is important to factor (consider) the adverse effects of sophisticated, aggressive, predatorial, and global competitor-economic intelligence and terrorist organizations’ interest in acquiring not only economic information and science for competitive advantage, but dual-use technologies as well.
By encouraging these elements be included in future debates, it should prevent some to dismiss or mischaracterize the debate and dialogue as merely a:
protectionists ‘ attempt to influence debate about scientific communication in favor of exerting – imposing greater controls, or
subterfuge by private R&D firms to exploit or legitimize their growing influence over research agendas in universities, or even
poorly disguised attempt to ride the wave of domestic (homeland) security initiatives and rhetoric following the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
In the final analysis, this issue may have little, if anything, to do with secrecy or an institution’s well intentioned desire to sustain and continue to foster scientific openness on behalf of its researchers and scientists. Rather, the issue will certainly evolve around (a.) personal privacy, (b.) professional attribution, (c.) sustaining control, use, and ownership of the intellectual property rights and (proprietary) competitive advantages of the products of the research, and perhaps most importantly, (d.) keeping military-defense related advances and technologies out of the hands of (economic, competitive, terrorist) adversaries.