Fundamental Research Security

December 2019
Topics: Stakeholder Analysis, Scientific Research and Development, International Relations
JASON, The MITRE Corporation for the National Science Foundation
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National Science Foundation (NSF) celebrates its 70th anniversary this year (2019). Over seven decades it has transformed U.S. fundamental research and enabled a world-leading scientific enterprise built upon open intellectual exchange, collaboration, and sharing. Several incidents in recent years have led to concern that the openness of our academic fundamental research ecosystem is being taken advantage of by other countries. This sense of unfair competition is entwined with concerns about U.S. economic and national security in a rapidly changing world. The NSF wishes to assess these concerns and respond to them where appropriate, while also adhering to core values of excellence, openness, and fairness.

NSF has charged JASON to produce an unclassified report that can be widely disseminated and discussed in the academic community, providing technical or other data about specific security concerns in a classified appendix.

JASON was asked:

1. What is the value and what are the risks of openness generally associated with fundamental research?

2. How should the principles of scientific openness be affirmed or modified?

3. Are there areas of fundamental research that should be more controlled rather than openly available? What are those areas?

4. What controls, if any, could be placed on particular types of information, and how can this be managed in a way that maintains the maximum benefit of the open research environment for fundamental research?

5. What good practices could be put into place by academic researchers to balance the open environment of fundamental research with the needs for national (and economic) security?

6. What good practices could be put into place by funding agencies such as NSF to balance the open environment of fundamental research with the needs for national (and economic) security?

To address these questions, JASON engaged with NSF leadership, senior university administrators, the intelligence community, and others. This report details the results from the ensuing inquiry, discussions, and debates engaged with NSF, senior university administrators, the intelligence community, law enforcement, and others.

Four main themes emerged from the study:

• The value of, and need for, foreign scientific talent in the United States,

• The significant negative impacts of placing new restrictions on access to fundamental research,

• The need to extend our notion of research integrity to include disclosures of commitments and potential conflicts of interest,

• The need for a common understanding between academia and U.S. government agencies about how to best protect U.S. interests in fundamental research while maintaining openness and successfully competing in the global marketplace for science talent.

Our Findings and Recommendations amplify these themes and propose steps the NSF can take to improve the security of fundamental research.

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