Priorities for research collaborations with North Korea

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Last September (2004), Science published an editorial and a news focus endorsing the idea of using scientific collaboration to engage with North Korea (see North Korean scientists reach out to the West). The articles referred to collaborations suggested by the North Korean government, including working with a North Korean cloning centre on stem cell research.

In this letter to the editor of Science, Courtland Robinson, Myung-Ken Lee, and Gilbert Burnham, say that although they agree in principle, the international scientific community should focus more on collaborations in agriculture and the health sciences.

Moreover, they point out that North Korean scientists and intellectuals form an elite that is closely tied to the government. Prestigious science, they say, may be different from the type of science that can benefit the population.

Norman Neureiter, author of the original Science editorial, agrees but notes that the North Korean government is reticent to engage in most forms of collaboration. Its willingness —apparent desire, even — to collaborate on cloning experiments, could be used as a first step towards future joint research. He says that until this first step is taken, there is no point in trying to “dictate” research priorities.

Link to full letter in Science

Reference: Science 307, 206 (2005)