When war destroys scientific collaborations

In 1808, the Institut de France announced that it was awarding one of the Decennial Science Prizes, created in 1804 by Napoleon, to the English scientist Humphry Davy for his discoveries about the nature of various chemical elements. All this in the midst of the Franco-British war! Despite loud shouts from English newspapers calling for him to reject an enemy award, Davy felt that if governments were at war, scientists would not. In 1813, he even went to collect his prize in Paris despite the exchanges of cannon shots between the belligerents!

The idea that science should remain above nations and that it has a universal goal is old, but it should be remembered at critical times when wars tend to obscure this fundamental value and simplistically identify people with your nation or government. This belief in the universality of science is also the basis of academic pilgrimage academics since the Middle Ages and scientific collaborations between scholars from different countries since the beginning of the xixi century. We think here only of the articles by the German chemist Justus von Liebig signed jointly with the French researchers Louis Joseph Gay-Lussac in 1824 and Jean-Baptiste Dumas in 1837.

Since then, international scientific collaborations have continued to grow. According to the Web of Science bibliographic platform, which includes more than 13,500 peer-reviewed quality scientific journals, the proportion of international collaborations worldwide has increased from 5% in 1980 to 28% in 2020. proportion varies from country to country and depends on its size, its openness to the world and its scientific autonomy. Thus, in 2020, 27% of Chinese publications were the result of these collaborations, compared to 65% of French and Ukrainian publications. Surprisingly, the rates of Russia (42%) and the United States (43%) are comparable and these two countries share the same major trading partners. But while the United States is Russia’s number one partner, Russia is only twentieth on the American side.

Let’s focus on Ukraine. Over the past 15 years, Ukrainian scientists have published some 71,000 articles in international journals, of which 10,000 with Russian colleagues and 6,500 with French colleagues. They collaborate mainly with colleagues from Russia and Germany (14% each), followed by Poland (12%), France (9%), the United Kingdom (8%), Italy (7%) and China (5 %). .

Over the past fifteen years, Ukrainian scientists have published 10,000 articles with Russian colleagues

The destruction of infrastructure in Ukraine by the Russian invasion should permanently destroy scientific collaborations between the two countries. The example of Iraq gives an idea of ​​the impact of this material damage on scientific activities. Twenty years after the US government’s decision to attack the country, Iraq’s international scientific output returned to the (modest) level of 1989. President’s invasion of Ukraine will destroy critical scientific infrastructure and it will take at least a decade to rebuild. Recall that Kyiv was the third largest scientific city in the Soviet Union in 1989, after Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Since the researchers themselves are usually on the initiative of international scientific collaborations, we should not act hastily by stopping exchanges with those in Russia. Then we would double penalize scientists who cannot be held jointly and severally liable for decisions taken by a totalitarian regime.


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