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The globalization of science and research

Contract research allowing the sharing of equipment and data will result in scientific progress.

Thomas Friedman argues in his book “The World is Flat” that the world is rapidly globalizing. Services and the production of certain goods are being sent to countries around the world so that companies can grow. Globalization at its core means a more interconnected world — interconnected markets and economies. More companies rely on each other to be successful and to make a profit. This principle is slowly creeping into scientific discovery, and it should be welcomed there.

It’s no secret in the research community that some labs are better than others. Contract research has been done for a long time. In fact, even some projects at the University of Minnesota are done for other labs and universities. The problem, though, is accessibility.

In 2011, Elizabeth Iorns, a biologist from New Zealand, came up with an idea that would globalize the scientific community. Backed by investors in Silicon Valley, she created the Science Exchange, a company that connects labs that are often underfunded.

The company works by listing large labs that it has contracts with and including reviews and ratings that allow the customer to select the lab that they want to conduct a specific project or research. The Science Exchange acts as the middleman that allows for any research firm or interest group to advance their research without spending millions of dollars on equipment.

Though there are some problems, I think that this move to globalize research is an important step in the right direction for science. It makes research more accessible when budgets are running thin for many research departments.

However, for labs that have already made an investment in buying certain equipment, much of it just spends time sitting around. The exchange gives indirect access to stagnant equipment for people who need it or can’t afford it. The exchange is already making important progress by partnering with foundations like the Movember Foundation, which is looking for a prostate cancer cure.

Receiving credit for work is a commonly mentioned problem with increased collaboration. We’ve been required to cite our sources since elementary school — it’s no different in the research community. Attributions or citations in papers and journals are still distinct honors for many researchers.

The Science Exchange serves to challenge that function. An example comes from Stanford University: Many people who use the exchange struggle to cite the faculty and associates who conducted the research on their behalf. Thus, Stanford administrators that initially helped bring this company into their labs have shunned the exchange.

As the world globalizes and economies intertwine, progress through collaboration becomes everyone’s goal. In the scientific community, perhaps the impact will be the same. With more interconnectedness, we could be heading toward an era when scientific advancement could come in leaps and bounds instead of small steps. 

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