Editorial: Accelerating Asian Science

Helene Halkjær Jensen, editor, eBioZoom, postdoc, Department of Bioscience and Chemistry, Aalborg University, hhj@bio.aau.dk

Most scientists have experienced the dedication, focus, and motivation that drives many Asian scientists. They represent countries that heavily invest in science and research, countries developing fast and with focused strategies. This eBioZoom topic focuses on how Asian countries move into the international research scene and cultural meetings that follow.

Imagine a population of more than 1.3 billion people unified in one single country and governed by one single leader. Imagine this crowd of people working towards a few selected goals. Imagine them being so fixed on their own and common goals that they will invest more or less whatever it takes to reach them. Imagine this population diffusing into other parts of the world to learn, improve, build bridges, invest, and bring back knowledge and understanding to their homes. 

Such a population has the potential to do whatever they want.

Both in India and in particular in China, population growth and clear political strategies go hand-in-hand. These strategies involve high ambitions and plans within technology, science, and research. Many other Asian countries have followed the same idea. By heavily investing in the universities and the tech industry, a number of Asian countries are still just catching speed to find their roles in the world market. 

And it is already paying off: In China, big universities such as The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University show impressive publication records – both in terms of quantity and quality. And in 2015, China alone produced 20% of the global research literature (1). At the same time, China invests in huge technology projects such as Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility and Pandax Dark-Matter Detector monopolizing important and potentially groundbreaking discoveries in the future (1).

Other countries follow their example. South Korea, Japan, and Singapore have research and development as very high political priorities. Asian countries are preparing to take a world-lead and be the countries that attract scientists, who want to learn from the best.

Figure 1: Guest lecture for Korean medical students.

Social hurdles 
In Denmark, we may on the other hand have most of our focus directed towards other European countries, the US, or Australia. These countries have traditionally hosted world-class scientists and lead many research fields. But we also experience an increasing number of Asian scholars and students visiting Denmark universities. Danish universities have formalized collaborations with Asians, among others in the Sino-Danish Center. And in the future, we will probably find more inspiration in Asian science. 

Here, one – if not the – major challenge for integrating the European/Western research traditions with Asian countries lie in personal interactions. 

First of all, there is a massive language barrier – not only between “Western” and “Eastern” countries, but also between Asian countries. Most academics in Asia are schooled in English, and they are good at writing and reading. But the Eastern accents are difficult to understand for most Westerners. On the other hand, very few Westerners even attempt to learn some phrases of a major Asian language.

But such clashes reach much further than the language barrier. Every country has their own style in communicating, arguing, questioning, and balancing work hours and free time. What is constructive feedback in one country may be rude and aggressive somewhere else. In the US, you always give three positive comments before one negative. In Holland, you say your honest opinion more or less flat out. In South Korea, you don’t lose temper. In China, you don’t openly question your boss.  

Understanding – both in terms of culture and language – is a major challenge that does not directly read from research papers or collaboration statements. But when we in the future will interact more, they will need to be addressed to ensure successful partnerships. I can highly recommend the book “Culture Map” by Erin Meyer (2), who elegantly and in a positive tone outlines the cultural differences that lead to confusion and irritation. 

But before that, the eBioZoom editorial board invites you to get inspired by some view point from scientists who have all worked or still work in the Asian-Western interface.

Figure 2: Many Asian cultures are in many ways deeply influenced by old religions and philosophy.

References

1. China by the numbers. https://www.nature.com/news/china-by-the-numbers-1.20122

2. “The Culture Map – Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business” by Erin Meyer, Perseus Books Group, 2014

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