News: AAAS News & Notes
26 October 2012
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Fifty Years after Cuba Crisis, New Roles for S&T in Arms Control
Crisis and hope. Almost a year after the Cuban missile crisis, in October 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Other treaties and agreements followed in later years.
Credit: Keystone/Getty Images
ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Pierce Corden remembers well a mild night in late October 1962: President John F. Kennedy was addressing the nation, describing the placement of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida, and warning of the potential for war. In the following days, a hush descended over the Georgetown University campus where Corden was a student. The fate of humanity seemed to hang in the balance. Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, retrospectives typically focus on how nuclear war was averted. But at a workshop cosponsored by AAAS, experts said the crisis also was an inflection point, leading to agreements to limit nuclear testing and curb proliferation and driving a cohort of scientists and engineers into the fields of arms control and science diplomacy. While the Cold War has receded, arms control remains a global priority, driven by fears of terrorism, nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and creeping tensions between the United States and Russia. Technological advances and science diplomacy will be crucial to a new generation of nuclear security, said experts gathered at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“In terms of U.S. diplomacy, some of the greatest assets we have are not only in our government agencies, but in our foundations, science associations, and other areas,” said E. William Colglazier, science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We’re going to have to use all of our assets if we’re going to create a more peaceful world.”
The workshop, held 3 to 4 October, attracted two dozen nuclear arms and security experts from government and diplomacy, industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations for off-the-record discussions, followed by a presentation for about 150 Georgia Tech students and faculty members. The events were organized by the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy at Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.
Corden, a physicist, has worked with U.S. and international arms control agencies for four decades; he’s currently a visiting scholar at the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. He detailed how the crisis propelled the United States and the Soviet Union into a limited ban on nuclear testing and then to a series of arms control agreements in ensuing years.
Today, however, the nature of nuclear threats is far different than 50 years ago, said Adam N. Stulberg, codirector of the center at Georgia Tech. There are more nuclear players with “different idiosyncracies,” Stulberg said. Nations or organizations that might have crude arsenals or “that don’t subscribe to the established rules and norms” present different challenges to arms control verification, monitoring, and diplomacy.
In all, 183 nations have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which seeks to prohibit all nuclear explosions, and 157 have ratified it. Ambassador Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, said that with the exception of two nuclear tests by North Korea since 2006, the world has effectively frozen testing.
But, Tóth said, “we must put the genie of nuclear weapons tests back in the bottle, and we must seal the bottle.” Without that, the world risks a new era of proliferation and testing. The risk is especially high in an arc from the Middle East through South Asia to East Asia, he added, where a number of key nations have not signed or ratified the treaty.
Critical to the success of the treaty is an ever-growing array of advanced monitoring stations and sensors—337 facilities in 89 nations when complete—that provides nuclear test detection capabilities by reading even faint atmospheric, seismic, or acoustic signals.
Experts at the workshop suggested scientific evaluation of vast amounts of data from a wide range of sources will be a means of detecting clandestine nuclear weapons activity. One of the most intriguing ideas is to sift through masses of social media data for subtle patterns or indicators.
Indeed, data-sharing between nations could be an important focus for science diplomacy, said Vaughan C. Turekian, director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and editor of its quarterly online publication Science & Diplomacy.
For example, he suggested, Cuba and the United States could negotiate agreements to share data on climate and fish migration. Cooperation on such projects could, in time, build trust on security issues.
“The distance that almost caused nuclear catastrophe is also a distance where we share so many resources and interests,” Turekian said. “That’s where this whole issue of science and diplomacy, and how it can help lead to peace and prosperity, is really important.”
“Active Explorer” Project Turns Smart Phones into Classroom Research Tools
It’s a common concern among parents and teachers: Smart phones in the classroom are bound to be a distraction. But a new project, developed by AAAS, turns the increasingly common technology into a powerful tool for hands-on science learning.
Students use the phones to collect data—anything from GPS coordinates for invasive plants in their neighborhoods to videos of a classroom experiment—to complete science “quests” developed by their teachers. They upload the information to a Web site where they can combine and share their discoveries as a slideshow, a comic book, or other creative presentations.
The “Active Explorer” project, launched in four Washington, D.C., schools this month, was designed to help students to become more active learners and collaborators, said Bob Hirshon, AAAS program director for technology and learning. He developed Active Explorer’s Web and mobile platforms as part of a project supported by a grant from the Wireless Reach Initiative of the global communications company Qualcomm; kajeet, an educational smart phone company, will provide wireless service for the project.
Although the program is aimed at fourth- through seventh-grade science students, Hirshon said its open design could be used to create quests in the arts and social studies as well. No matter what the topic, he said, students who work on the quests “are building knowledge independently, rather than acquiring it solely from a book or exercise.”
Eight teachers and 120 students at Friendship Blow Pierce Junior Academy, John Burroughs Elementary School, Sacred Heart Bilingual Catholic School, and The Washington Middle School for Girls are taking some of the first Active Explorer quests. One classroom is using it to document the results of an experiment that compares how candles made from different materials burn. Another class will collect information on plant and animal species in the school garden. For the students, Hirshon said, “it’s a way of personalizing something that’s really big, and taking something that is hard to wrap your head around and bringing it into your real life.”
After evaluating the program in the four D.C. schools, Hirshon plans to add new features such as Spanish-language versions of the Web site and the mobile Android app, along with new ways to collect data within a quest.
AAAS Council Reminder
The next meeting of the AAAS Council will take place during the AAAS Annual Meeting and will begin at 9:00 a.m. on 17 February 2013 in the Constitution Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel, 39 Dalton Street, Boston, Massachusetts.
Individuals or organizations wishing to present proposals or resolutions for possible consideration by the council should submit them in written form to AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner by 26 November 2012. This will allow time for them to be considered by the Committee on Council Affairs at its winter meeting.
Items should be consistent with AAAS’s objectives and be appropriate for consideration by the council. Resolutions should be in the traditional format, beginning with “Whereas” statements and ending with “Therefore be it resolved.”
Late proposals or resolutions delivered to the AAAS Chief Executive Officer in advance of the February 2013 open hearing of the Committee on Council Affairs will be considered, provided that they deal with urgent matters and are accompanied by a written explanation of why they were not submitted by the November deadline. The Committee on Council Affairs will hold its open hearing at 2:30 p.m. on 16 February 2013 in the Republic Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel. A copy of the full council agenda will be available for inspection in the AAAS headquarters office in the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
Additional Candidates for AAAS Annual Election
The following candidates have been added to the ballot for the 2012 election of AAAS officers. Members registered in more than one section will receive ballots for elections for each section they are enrolled in. The 2012 AAAS election of general and section officers will be held later this fall. For a list of other candidates, please see AAAS News & Notes in the 31 August 2012 issue of Science.
President: Gerald R. Fink, Whitehead Institute/MIT; S. James Gates Jr., Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Board of Directors: Claire M. Fraser, Univ. of Maryland School of Medicine; Roberto Kolter, Harvard Medical School; Elizabeth F. Loftus, Univ. of California, Irvine; J. William (Bill) Schopf, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
Committee on Nominations: Bruce E. Bursten, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville; Judy R. Franz, American Physical Society; Barbara J. Grosz, Harvard Univ.; Thomas H. Jordan, Univ. of Southern California; Peter S. Kim, Merck Research Laboratories; Harvey F. Lodish, Whitehead Institute; Mario J. Molina, Univ. of California, San Diego; Richard H. Scheller, Genentech
Section ElectionsMedical Sciences
Chair Elect: Karen H. Antman, Boston Univ. School of Medicine; Janet S. Butel, Baylor College of Medicine
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Scott D. Emr, Cornell Univ.; Nancy L. Haigwood, Oregon Health and Science Univ.
Electorate Nominating Committee: Ruma Banerjee, Univ. of Michigan; Jeffrey I. Cohen, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH; Richard Kitsis, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Joseph Loscalzo, Harvard Medical School