"Cooperations are an expression of our scientific freedom"

Max Planck President Martin Stratmann about the new guidelines on international cooperations

International cooperations are indispensable for successful science; they shape the scientific activities of all Max Planck Institutes. However, competition for global leadership in science and research on the one hand and critical domestic political developments in important partner countries on the other pose challenges to successful cooperations. In March 2021, the Max Planck Senate issued guidelines to support researchers in cooperating internationally - even under uncertain and difficult conditions.

Mr Stratmann, what support does the Max Planck Society offer its scientists when they want to cooperate with other international partners?

Martin Stratmann

 Martin Stratmann: Of course, support for researchers at the MPG consists primarily of the broad range of services offered by the Administrative Headquarters, which strives to make international cooperation possible. In a world that has become more complex, however, it also seemed important to us to provide overarching orientation for international cooperation. This was formulated in the "Guidelines for the Development of International Collaborations of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft", which the Senate adopted in March 2021. These guidelines are intended to support scientists of the MPG in the area of conflict between freedom of research, adherence to rules and individual responsibility in order to be able to successfully carry out international collaborations even under uncertain or difficult conditions. The guidelines are intended as an orientation aid and not as an extension of the range of duties of scientists when initiating and carrying out research collaborations. No new regulations are created, but the existing, relevant regulations for the structuring of international collaboration, both self-imposed and externally prescribed, are summarised. This also refers to the mechanisms concerning the principles of good scientific practice or the responsible handling of research freedom and research risks.

What long-term impact will the COVID-19 pandemic have on international cooperation?

COVID-19 means a significant cutback in international cooperation. At the same time, however, digitalisation shows the potential of new innovative and virtual formats of exchange and cooperation. While these cannot fully replace face-to-face encounters, they do raise our awareness of sustainable and climate-friendly mobility behaviour in science. Science has a special responsibility to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.  On a personal level, I am looking forward to when it will once again be possible to make targeted trips abroad and to enter into a real, and no longer just virtual, personal exchange with our most important international partners.

Why do international cooperations play such an important role for the Max Planck Society?

Knowledge and findings are spread across our entire globe. Centres of scientific excellence can be found on all continents. Successful science and, above all, scientific progress therefore requires cross-border exchange so that such globally distributed knowledge and complementary competences can be combined into innovative and added-value qualities. In concrete terms, this is demonstrated by the fact that scientific publications that are produced in international cooperation have a significantly higher impact than those that are produced only in one's own country. All of this is particularly true for the Max Planck Institutes, whose success is largely based on their international networking. The decisive basis for this is the international career paths of our scientists at the MPG and the high proportion of international researchers at our institutes. In addition, international collaborations ensure that our scientists have access to outstanding scientific infrastructure in other countries. For research in certain areas which, due to their complexity and the effort required, can no longer be carried out nationally alone, but only internationally, as in astrophysics, for example, these accesses are indispensable.

Which instruments have proved particularly successful?

The most successful instrument and basis of the MPG's international cooperation are the diverse individual collaborations of our scientists, which are guided by scientific interest. These collaborations and opportunities for cooperation are an expression of our scientific freedom, which includes the freedom to choose research topics, subjects and methods, the freedom to choose international research partners and the freedom to choose appropriate forms of cooperation. Building on this, we have developed instruments of international cooperation to offer our scientists further options to strengthen these collaborations and the necessary international networking and take them to a higher level. Within the framework of our partner groups, for example, outstanding young scientists are supported in countries that are interested in strengthening their research through international cooperation. Max Planck Centres, on the other hand, are based on a partnership of longer standing. They are often the next step towards a stronger institutionalised cooperation in which early career researchers and partner groups are established. The Centres' collaborations clearly go beyond bilateral individual partnerships.

What are the challenges of international cooperation?

The challenges in international cooperation can differ - the decisive factor is ultimately that the cooperation partners have a common understanding of the respective goals, i.e. that they create a genuine basis of trust, and that they agree on the common framework conditions that apply to both sides in mutual respect of different legal and cultural contexts. For although our world has grown closer together through the communication media, at the same time new, above all regulatory hurdles have arisen as a result of the geopolitical competition between the most important and powerful players in the world - including in science. Science basically has the methods and the language to overcome these hurdles, admittedly taking into account higher-level interests. As a result, science in international cooperation also plays, as it always has, an important and responsible function in conveying and safeguarding values such as freedom of research and teaching, freedom of academic exchange, science communication or institutional autonomy.

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