China: From Copycat Nation to Space Innovation
The conventional wisdom is that China's economy is based on stealing intellectual property and underpricing it. If we look at aerospace technology, we see a different story.
From 2011-2014, Daniel Honan was the Managing Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, Daniel was Vice President of Production for Plum TV, a niche cable network he helped launch in 2002. The production team he oversaw won over two dozen Emmy awards. Daniel has created numerous shows and documentaries for television, and his film credits include Stealing the Fire, a documentary on the black market for nuclear weapons technology.
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The United States is an innovation economy while China is a copycat economy. That is how the conventional wisdom goes, and a common objection to China's way of doing business was neatly summarized by Alexandra Harney recently in The New York Times. "Too often China’s purpose is not to build on what the competition has done," Harney writes, "but simply to steal its work and underprice it."
In other words, dishonesty wins in China, and it might very well be the country's undoing. The fear of intellectual property theft erodes trust and cooperation. And that seems to be one big reason China is stagnant when it comes to innovation.
However, if we look at aerospace technology, we see a different story. According to a recent paper by Michael Raska of the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University, "since the late 1990s, China's government has gradually introduced elements of competition and globalisation, with the aim of overcoming the entrenched monopoly of China's traditional defense-industrial conglomerates."
Raska says these reforms have allowed China to streamline research and development, and transfer technology between its civil and commercial space entities. This has all happened under a veil of secrecy, but there are still very clear signs that China is fast developing into an innovator in aerospace technology. For instance, Raska observes:
The trajectory of China's ballistic missile R&D and production shows a gradual transition from copying and reproducing first-generation Soviet ballistic-missile technologies to adapting and modifying smaller, mobile, solid-propellant ballistic missiles and their follow-on second-generation systems. China is now an independent producer and technological innovator of selected missile systems and related aerospace technologies.
What's the Big Idea?
The United States has certainly copied industrial practices from Europe, while inventing its own -- notably the moving assembly line. The U.S. has been using that manufacturing model now for 100 years, and many would argue it is time to catch up with the times, and, dare we suggest, look at practices from other countries in order to reverse-engineer a flourishing U.S. economy.
In other words, being a copycat and an innovator often go hand-in-hand, and a good example of this is China's space program, which has recently achieved some significant milestones.
China recently completed its first manned docking mission in space, with its first female astronaut being a vital part of the 3-member crew. This was a significant step forward in China's plan to build a large manned space station by the year 2020.
So how did they get there? Here are some of the important milestones in the history of China's aerospace program:
What's the Significance?
During the honeymoon period of the Sino-Soviet alliance, China was provided with technology and training to develop rockets. In other words, they were allowed to copy from their Soviet Cold War friends. However, when the paternal relationship between the two powers broke off, China developed a strategic goal that is now growing closer to fruition today. That goal, according to Michael Raska, is to "close the gap with technologically more advanced adversaries and near competitors - principally the United States, Russia, and Japan."
The recent achievements of China's space program are understandably a source of enormous national pride. So where does it go from here?
Will the U.S. and China fight a war in space or will the two countries perhaps collaborate on a joint mission to Mars? The answer to that question depends on who the copycat will be, and who will be the true innovator, and just how comfortable each country will be in its respective role.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
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- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
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