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Scientific Cooperation

AS we move further into the 1990s, a "new world order" seems to be emerging in scientific research as well as in geopolitics.

Science has always had an international style, with scientists cooperating and sharing information widely. Their borders have tended to demarcate fields of interest rather than national boundaries. Now cash-short national governments are finding they too need global partnerships to pursue the more costly areas of basic research.

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Thus President George Bush will go to Japan seeking support for America's newest high-energy physics project as well as freer trade. Japan has been reluctant to make the billion-dollar contribution the Bush administration would like to help fund the Superconducting Supercollider particle accelerator under construction in Texas. White House aides have suggested that, this time, Japan will be forthcoming. Such a commitment would help persuade Congress to continue its funding for the $8.3 billion project.

Also, this summer France will launch the American-built Topex/Poseidon ocean-mapping satellite. This will be the first National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite to ride a foreign rocket. It is a major element in NASA's "Mission to Planet Earth" program to study our environment from space. The space agencies of both countries decided several years ago to cut their individual costs for this important project by pooling resources.

A similar spirit of joint enterprise underlies the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) program. Japan, the European Community, Russia, and the United States have joined as equal partners to study engineering aspects of hydrogen fusion power.

The trend seems clear. Nations have often cooperated in coordinated research programs such as Antarctic studies or ocean surveys. Europe, the United States, and the former Soviet Union have all accommodated guest researchers of many nationalities at their facilities. They have cooperated in, and provided instruments for, one another's space science missions.

Yet in spite of this international flavor, each nation's efforts remained essentially national in character. Now even the leading scientific countries are forming partnerships to conduct some kinds of research that they once would have pursued individually.

The report on Directions in Science in today's Monitor reflects this trend. It also represents a new kind of international joint enterprise in journalism. Under the title of World Media Project, 24 news publications around the world combine resources to report on mutually agreed topics - in this case, scientific advances. Some of the advances covered are still pursued largely on a national basis. Others - notably physicists' search into matter's basic nature - illustrate the kind of research that demands

resources national budgets no longer can easily provide.

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These latter projects offer little commercial payoff but produce knowledge that benefits all humanity. The time has come to share the planning, the management, and the costs of such ventures more widely among the beneficiaries.

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