Neo-colonial research or science,[1][2] frequently described as helicopter research,[1] parachute science[3][4] or research,[5] or safari study,[6] is when researchers from wealthier countries go to a developing country, collect information, travel back to their country, analyze the data and samples, and publish the results with no or little involvement of local researchers. A 2003 study by the Hungarian academy of sciences found that 70% of articles in a random sample of publications about least-developed countries did not include a local research co-author.[2]

The result of this kind of research is that local colleagues might be used to provide logistics but are not engaged for their expertise or given credit for their participation in the research. Scientific publications resulting from parachute science may only contribute to the career of the scientists from rich countries, but not contribute development of local science capacity (such as funded research centers) or the careers of local scientists.[1] This is a form of "colonial" science that has reverberations of 19th century scientific practices of treating non-Western participants as "others" in order to advance colonialism—and critics call for the end of these practices in order to decolonize knowledge.[7][8]

This kind of research approach reduces the quality of research because international researchers may not ask the right questions or draw connections to local issues.[9] The result of this approach is that local communities are unable to leverage the research to their own advantage.[4] Ultimately, especially for fields dealing with global issues like conservation biology which rely on local communities to implement solutions, neo-colonial science prevents institutionalization of the findings in local communities in order to address issues being studied by scientists.[4][7]

Examples by country


In April 2018, a publication about Indonesia's Bajau people received great attention. These "sea nomads" had a genetic adaptation resulting in large spleens that supply additional oxygenated red blood cells.[10]

Yet, a month later this publication was criticised by Indonesian scientists. Their article in Science questioned the ethics of scientists from the United States of America and Denmark who took DNA samples of the Bajau people and analysed them, without much involvement of Bajau or other Indonesian people.[11][12]

Examples by field

Examples of neo-colonial approaches to science include:

Soil science

Soil scientists have qualified helicopter research as a perpetuation of "colonial" science. Typically researchers from rich countries would come to establish soil profile pits or collect soil and peat samples, which is often more easily done in poor countries given the availability of cheap labour and goodwill of villagers to dig a pit on their land against small payment. The profile will be described and samples taken with the help of local people, possibly also university staff. In case of helicopter research, the outcomes are then published such as discovery in tropical peatlands, sometimes in high-level journals without the involvement of local colleagues. "Overall, helicopter research tends to produce academic papers that further the career of scientists from developed countries, but provide little practical outcomes for nations where the studies are conducted, nor develop the careers of their local scientists." [1]

Coral Reef research

A 2021 study in Current Biology quantified the amount of parachute research happening in coral reef studies and found such approaches to be the norm.[14][3][9]


The use of helicopter research has also led to a stigma of research within minority groups; some going so far as to deny research within their communities. Such safari studies lead to long-term negative effects for the scientific community and researchers, as distrust develops within peripheral communities.[13]

Donor robbery

Funds for research in developing countries are often provided by bilateral and international academic and research programmes for sustainable development. Through 'donor robbery' a large proportion of such international funds may end up in the wealthier countries via consultancy fees, laboratory costs in rich universities, overhead or purchase of expensive equipment, hiring expatriates and running "enclave" research institutes, depending on international conglomerates such as CGIAR.[1]

Use of open data

The current tendency of freely availing research datasets may lead to exploitation of, and rapid publication of results based on data pertaining to developing countries by rich and well-equipped research institutes, without any further involvement and/or benefit to local communities; similarly to the historical open access to tropical forests that has led to the disappropriation ("Global Pillage") of plant genetic resources from developing countries.[15]


One of the conditions for publication set by the journal Global Health Action is that, "Articles reporting research involving primary data collection will normally include researchers and institutions from the countries concerned as authors, and include in-country ethical approval."[16]

In the US, the Cherokee Nation established a specific Institutional Review Board, aiming at ensuring the protection of the rights and welfare of tribal members involved in research projects.[17] The Cherokee Nation IRB does not allow helicopter research.[13]

An Ethiopian soil scientist, Mitiku Haile, suggests that such "free riding" should be "condemned by all partners and, if found, should be brought to the attention of the scientific community and the international and national funding agencies".[18]

Also in Africa, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, travel restrictions on international scholars tend to local scientists stepping up to lead research.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Minasny, Budiman; Fiantis, Dian; Mulyanto, Budi; Sulaeman, Yiyi; Widyatmanti, Wirastuti (2020-08-15). "Global soil science research collaboration in the 21st century: Time to end helicopter research". Geoderma. 373: 114299. doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2020.114299. ISSN 0016-7061.
  2. ^ a b Dahdouh-Guebas, Farid; Ahimbisibwe, J.; Van Moll, Rita; Koedam, Nico (2003-03-01). "Neo-colonial science by the most industrialised upon the least developed countries in peer-reviewed publishing". Scientometrics. 56 (3): 329–343. doi:10.1023/A:1022374703178. ISSN 1588-2861. S2CID 18463459.
  3. ^ a b "Q&A: Parachute Science in Coral Reef Research". The Scientist Magazine®. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  4. ^ a b c "The Problem With 'Parachute Science'". Science Friday. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  5. ^ "Scientists Say It's Time To End 'Parachute Research'". Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  6. ^ a b "Helicopter Research". Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  7. ^ a b Vos, Asha de. "The Problem of 'Colonial Science'". Scientific American. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  8. ^ "The Traces of Colonialism in Science". Observatory of Educational Innovation. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  9. ^ a b Stefanoudis, Paris V.; Licuanan, Wilfredo Y.; Morrison, Tiffany H.; Talma, Sheena; Veitayaki, Joeli; Woodall, Lucy C. (2021-02-22). "Turning the tide of parachute science". Current Biology. 31 (4): R184–R185. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.029. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 33621503.
  10. ^ Ilardo, Melissa A.; Moltke, Ida; Korneliussen, Thorfinn S.; Cheng, Jade; Stern, Aaron J.; Racimo, Fernando; Damgaard, Peter de Barros; Sikora, Martin; Seguin-Orlando, Andaine; Rasmussen, Simon; Munckhof, Inge C. L. van den (2018-04-19). "Physiological and Genetic Adaptations to Diving in Sea Nomads". Cell. 173 (3): 569–580.e15. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2018.03.054. ISSN 0092-8674. PMID 29677510.
  11. ^ Rochmyaningsih, Dyna (2018-07-26). "Did a study of Indonesian people who spend most of their days under water violate ethical rules?". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  12. ^ Minasny, Budiman; Fiantis, Dian (2018-08-29). "'Helicopter research': who benefits from international studies in Indonesia?". The Conversation. Archived from the original on 2021-01-16. Retrieved 2021-01-16.
  13. ^ a b c d Cherokee Nation IRB: Helicopter Research
  14. ^ "Study quantifying parachute science in coral reef research shows it's 'still widespread'". EurekAlert!. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  15. ^ Low, Alex (2001). "The Third Revolution: Plant Genetic Resources in Developing Countries and China: Global Village or Global Pillage". International Trade and Business Law Annual. 6: 323.
  16. ^ "Submit to Global Health Action". Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  17. ^ "Cherokee Nation Institutional Review Board". Cherokee Nation Institutional Review Board. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  18. ^ Haile, Mitiku (2020-08-15). "Response to "Global soil science research collaboration in the 21st century: Time to end helicopter research"". Geoderma. 373: 114300. doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2020.114300. ISSN 0016-7061.
  19. ^ "Africa sees end to 'helicopter research' as pandemic changes minds". Times Higher Education (THE). 2020-07-15. Retrieved 2021-03-24.