The aims of the Global Research Council (GRC) to improve international scientific collaboration (Nature 485, 427; 2012) have been enthusiastically endorsed by John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Subra Suresh, head of the US National Science Foundation (see go.nature.com/rbiykb). We disagree with their statement that “good science anywhere in the world is good for science — and good for people — everywhere in the world”.
The agreed GRC standards for merit-based peer review will improve research quality through collaborations between high- and middle-income countries, which have strong research systems. But the guidelines are unlikely to boost science capacity in low-income countries.
Holdren and Suresh point out that US researchers could lose global funding if other governments do not review US proposals on their merit, and that the country's economic interests could be harmed if colleagues do not respect confidentiality and intellectual property. Subsequently, the heads of publicly funded science agencies from 47 countries agreed on the GRC's Statement of Principles for Scientific Merit Review.
It therefore seems that the GRC standards are transposing concern about intellectual property to the arena of peer review. This is reminiscent of the linking of intellectual-property rights with world trade law, which has created barriers to drug access in low-income countries.
Instead of implementing an aspect of US foreign policy that is intended to protect US economic interests, the GRC should promote scientific research in low-income countries. Apart from implying that they will discuss the expansion of open-access publishing in these countries, GRC members seem to have paid little attention to this issue.