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Chief World Bank Scientist
Addresses S&T Policy Fellows
Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people lack clean water, electric energy, adequate health care, and the means to produce good agricultural yields. At the same time, the biodiversity of the world they live in is increasingly at risk. These are the challenges that determine the top priorities for future sustainable development, Robert T. Watson told incoming AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows this week.
Watson, chief scientist and director for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development for the World Bank, had been named the 2002 Robert C. Barnard Environmental Lecturer.
In his talk, Watson emphasized the links between sustainable development and poverty, suggesting that environmental degradation threatens efforts to reduce poverty.
Johannes Loschnigg, one of this year's Congressional fellows, came to Washington with a background in tropical climate modeling. He said he appreciated Watson's presentation because he understands the implications of the effects of climate change from his own research experience. Loschnigg was sponsored by the American Meteorological Society.
"Watson's work relates closely to current issues in science and policy namely sustainable development and climate change," Loschnigg said. "These are hot political topics right now, and many places in DC are dealing with issues like this the EPA, State Department and USAID to name a few."
Watson's lecture was a highlight of this year's AAAS science and technology policy fellowship program orientation. Since 1973, the AAAS-sponsored program has allowed post-doctoral and mid-career scientists the opportunity to participate in the public policy process of the federal government.
Following a highly competitive, peer-reviewed process of selection, Fellows join their colleagues in Washington, D.C., for a comprehensive two-week orientation program that precedes their year-long fellowships in the various sectors of government. Throughout the year, AAAS helps the Fellows organize seminars that provide the opportunity to hear noted speakers on issues relating to science, technology, and public policy.
The scientists and engineers who go through the fellowship process will often stay with the government, or move to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to continue doing policy work related to their expertise.
Loschnigg says he is delighted to have the chance to combine science with policy-making. He's looked forward to doing so since he graduated with a double major in physics and international relations from the University of Wisconsin.
"Even though most of us have research backgrounds, we also have a strong interest in policy," Loschnigg said. "We'd like to work that into our careers in one way or another."
Shira Yoffe, a State Department Diplomacy Fellow for 2002, said she was particularly interested in Watson's focus on water in his talk. With a background in geography and fresh water resources, she too understands the critical need to maintain sources of clean, fresh water.
"It's nice to hear how someone at his level emphasizes these issues," she said.
Yoffe, who has a fellowship at the State Department this year, did not yet have a defined role at the agency, but she said she thought her skills as a writer and a compiler of complex information might be more useful than her science background.
"I'll be just like any other employee there," she says. "My knowledge of issues may be less important than my ability to find information quickly."
Both Loschnigg and Yoffe are look forward to the forthcoming year as AAAS Fellows. They said that the orientation process had prepared them to navigate the federal government bureaucracy, and given them access to high-level speakers such as the Swedish ambassador Jan Eliasson and Robert Watson.
"Some of the best people in the federal government have briefed us on how government and science policy works," said Loschnigg.
Yoffe agreed. "It's a very well done program," she said. "I enjoy getting to meet and interact with such a diverse and interesting array of individuals, both in terms of the fellows, and AAAS staff."
26 September 2002