Carnegie Mellon University
July 01, 2016

EPP Experts Work Toward International Scientific Collaboration

By Tara Moore

In the midst of rising tensions in U.S.-China relations on trade issues and the South China Sea, affiliates from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy in both countries worked to leverage the neutrality of science to achieve collaboration between the two nations. Five independent experts from the United States traveled to Beijing, China, to participate in the China-U.S. Innovation Dialogue, a meeting held between Assistant to the U.S. President for Science and Technology and Director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren, and Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wang Gang. Among the experts in attendance from the U.S. side was Erica Fuchs, professor of engineering and public policy (EPP), who spoke to participants on benefits of international data sharing in areas such as air pollution science. Chairing the expert group on the Chinese side was EPP alumnus Xue Lan (Ph.D., 1991), who now is dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Science and Technology Policy.

Fuchs, with the support of incoming EPP Ph.D. student Patrick Funk, led the creation of a memo on “International Data Sharing for Public Good: The Case of Air Pollution in China,” which analyzed the costs and benefits of an organized structure for sharing air quality research data between China and the U.S.

Air pollution and its effects on climate change are a global problem. Solving global problems takes global data. Data sharing within China as well as internationally would provide much larger foundation for study, avoiding conclusions that are not valid across contexts. High-resolution data of appropriate scope is essential for science to inform policy interventions.

Within the U.S. and Europe, there are many examples of scientific research informing government policy. The memo posited that if China were to adopt the same model, it could provide new opportunities for scientific understanding and regulatory improvements in air quality.

According to the memo, “through collaboration, U.S. scientists and policymakers may be able to share the U.S.’s mistakes (both in terms of science and policy) not necessarily captured in writing, and save China time and money in avoiding them.”

Both the United States and China are home to some of the world’s leading experts in air quality issues. Establishing a network for data sharing could lead to world-changing research. Outcomes proposed by the memo include the development of a national policy that rewards scientific collaboration and advisory input into policymaking, convening a Blue Ribbon Panel of international experts, and conducting jointly held workshops for federal and local government officials on risk communication and data collection and sharing.

Alongside Fuchs, U.S. experts in attendance included University of California San Diego’s Dr. Peter Cowhey, Tufts University’s Dr. Kelly Gallagher, the Center for American Progress’ Dr. Melanie Hart, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Scott Kennedy.

Building on the existing relationship between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the U.S.-China Innovation Dialogue was established in May 2010 as an activity of the Joint Commission on U.S.-China Science and Technology Cooperation (Joint Commission) at the behest of the leaders of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), whose talks bring together senior American and Chinese officials every year to discuss a broad range of economic, foreign policy, and security concerns. The U.S.-China Innovation Dialogue has occurred simultaneously with the S&ED talks each year since.

Carnegie Mellon played a prominent role in the three-day event, leading the dialogue from both sides, including representatives of the highest levels of government in the two nations. Carnegie Mellon’s role highlights the importance of universities and the neutrality of science to advance relations and decisions involving the world’s two most powerful nations, and social welfare globally.

This piece was originally published by Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering.