Global-south researchers want equal partnerships that value intellectual exchange.
Most scientific-journal articles come from wealthy countries in the global north. Often, well-funded researchers initiate short-term projects in southern countries — which are typically poorer and often have a history of colonial occupation — frequently without seeking substantive local input or expertise. Dubbed parachute or helicopter research, this is a long-standing tradition steeped in colonialism, say those campaigning for change.
Any unbiased reflection on the ethics of parachute research will conclude that it is ethically challenging and concerning. The practice of conducting research that wouldn’t be acceptable in your own jurisdiction in a poorer and more desperate country is, at best exploitative and, at worst rampant colonialism in research treating populations as lab rats for the benefit primarily in more developed countries. Research institutions, funding bodies and publishers need to take a strong stand when a researcher is obviously engaging in this kind of morally bankrupt behaviour.
The geosciences offer an extreme example of how parachute research is alive and well, particularly in Africa. Around 3,500 high-impact geoscience articles are published each year, with roughly 3.9% of them relating to an area in Africa. Yet only 30% of those articles had an African researcher as an author.
Nature spoke to four global-south researchers who say that it’s time for their global-north colleagues to pack up the parachute and have frank discussions about how to conduct equitable collaborations.