Today I had the privilege of meeting with some very impressive scientists who are focused on improving the lives of people across the globe. They tell me that China, and not the US, is one of the few nations that truly “get it” as far as their field goes, and so there are important collaborations underway.
I asked what they thought of the concern expressed by business and political leaders about the threat of China potentially overtaking the US in a multitude of areas, and would interpret their view as follows: while it is unfortunate that one has to travel halfway around the world to find people who are willing to put resources behind research, ultimately it does not really matter as long as someone funds and makes the scientific breakthroughs that will improve outcomes for humankind.
There is something noble about the way these scientists think. Sure, they want to be the one to make the breakthrough discovery, but once the discovery is made, the idea is to make it available to the world to find applications. This way of thinking reminds me of Tim Berners Lee, who created the worldwide web and made it available to all rather than hold onto it for personal commercial benefit.
So, who has got it right: the politicians and business establishment who think in parochial national boundaries, or the scientists who collaborate globally (and the former may say perhaps naively) to find solutions for humankind?
As usual, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. And we, the people, will make life more interesting for both sides as we want the healthcare breakthroughs as soon as possible, while also expecting to enjoy the economic benefits of businesses making profits from the applications in our own national “backyard”.
I suppose that if national pride helps to focus more resources on solving these big global issues, then maybe it serves a useful purpose after all.