July 2011

Influencing the future of science

Accept globalization 

As more universities open campuses abroad, and as large companies employ more people abroad than at home, being able to collaborate across borders is of the utmost importance. The current trend in many companies of using outsourcing as a means to diversify the risk of costly product discovery and development affects more than just manufacturing jobs. The “smart” jobs are subject to the same forces of competition. In principle, any piece of information can be transmitted via the internet, and therefore the work that produces it can be done anywhere in the world.

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." – Winston Churchill  

There is little workers can do to counteract the basic economic forces that justify relocating production tasks to locations where costs are lower. However, this type of relocation is less likely for innovation engines, the companies that provide the kind of creative jobs that produce highly novel scientific and technological discoveries. To keep the innovation engines from fleeing overseas, you can develop your talents, hone your skills, and remain hungry for the thrill of being the first to discover something. Use your ingenuity to deliver new products and produce unique information and the best science and technology anywhere. Schools need to teach, mentor and coach students in a way that will help schools and industries to stay at the front of the race to innovate. If talent is to be recruited from abroad, we must allow smart immigrants to come and stay in a friendlier place so that all have the chance to flourish and enjoy the great race to be the best. Even though not everyone wins, we all have the opportunity to be winners.

Finally, as Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science stated in a recent editorial,

… [I]nnovation often comes from nontraditional thinking, and many new ideas will come from new participants in science and engineering who often are less tied to traditional ways. That argues for increasing the diversity of the scientific human resource pool, adding more women, minority, and disabled scientists, as well as researchers from smaller and less-well-known institutions. The benefits of increasing diversity for fostering innovation and economic success have been argued well elsewhere. Both research institutions and funders need to attend more to these sources of novel thinking and may have to refine recruitment, reward, and funding systems accordingly (2).

There is a need for a grass-roots movement and social engagement to bring education, science and technology into focus as key strategic values. As President Obama told school children in Philadelphia, “Life is precious, and part of its beauty lies in its diversity. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by the things that make us different. We should be proud of them. Because it’s the things that make us different that make us who we are. And the strength and character of this country have always come from our ability to recognize ourselves in one another, no matter who we are, or where we come from, what we look like, or what abilities or disabilities we have.”


1. Wuchty, S. et al., (2007) The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge. Science 316, 1036 – 1039. 
2. Leshner, A. I. (2011) Innovation needs novel thinking. Science 27, 1009.

Nestor O. Concha (nestor.o.concha@gsk.com) is a manager of computational and structural chemistry and a group leader in biomolecular structure at GlaxoSmithKline.


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