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AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner Calls for Global Science Enterprise, Science Diplomacy
AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner joined top science policy leaders on Capitol Hill calling for a period of profound renewal in U.S. efforts to use science and technology to build relationships with other nations, even ones where the official relationship is limited.
Alan I. Leshner
Collaboration among scientists serves a clear diplomatic purpose, Leshner said before a House Science and Technology subcommittee, by acting as a catalyst to help developing nations integrate into the global science enterprise, allowing them to "better reap the benefits of science for their societies."
Scientific cooperation is "particularly important at this point in world history" because it can "maintain communication and cooperation links among the citizens of countries [whose] relationships may otherwise be strained or limited," added Leshner, who also serves as the executive publisher of the journal Science.
Speaking 15 July before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, Leshner testified alongside Michael Clegg, foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences; William A.Wulf, board member of the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF); and James Calvin, interim vice president for research at Texas A&M University.
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird
Chaired by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), the hearing explored the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and universities in promoting international science and technology cooperation. A hearing in April examined international science collaborations supported by the U.S. government.
"As important as it is for the U.S. government to actively engage in science diplomacy," NGOs and universities "add unique value to the effort," said Baird, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology.
He added: "They have the flexibility, the connections, and the know-how to engage scientists and pursue good science even in countries where government-to-government relations are tense and in countries with limited science and technology capacity of their own."
U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers
Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the subcommittee's ranking member, said that NGOs and universities are "uniquely positioned" to use their own strengths at building relationships in science and technology cooperation that transcend national and cultural borders.
"Even in times of governmental conflict, relationships built on trust and mutual respect will outlast current frictions," said Ehlers, who holds a Ph.D. in nuclear physics.
Ehlers said that among the many factors that eased tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War was the exchange of cultural activities and the interchange of scientists.
In written testimony, Leshner cited a June 1999 AAAS Board of Directors resolution stating that "science is often a means to bridge the political chasm that divides nations."
As an example of NGOs engaging scientists from diplomatically difficult nations, Leshner cited a 2007 conference in Kuwait which brought together 200 female scientists representing 22 Arab counties and about two dozen American women who held leadership positions in science, education, business and the government for a series of discussions highlighting the challenges faced by female scientists and engineers. Leshner said that the conference, sponsored by AAAS and U.S. Department of State, not only fostered potential collaborations between the U.S. and Arab nations, but also among the Arab nations present.
At the hearing, Leshner also announced the creation of a new AAAS center that will provide a forum for scientists, policy analysts, and policy makers to share experiences designing and implementing international scientific collaborations. Directed by AAAS Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian, the center will focus on opportunities for collaboration where official diplomatic partnerships are limited.
"Science is by definition global in scope and application," Leshner wrote in his testimony. "It knows no borders, is not constrained by geography, and no one country has a monopoly on it."
Echoing Leshner, Clegg said that "science was a global activity long before the invention of the term 'globalization' because the advancement of sciences and the issues and challenges of science, technology, and health programs are predominantly global in nature."
Clegg said that a majority of the U.S. National Academies' international initiatives have the goal of encouraging scientific communities to be more effective in engaging policy makers and the public, especially in the developing world.
Specific objectives include improving global sustainability and health, enhancing national and international security by increasing pathways of communication, and promoting human and institutional capital as a route to economic development and equity.
Due to the positive international attitudes towards the U.S. scientific community, he added that the Academies have been successful in performing outreach even in conflicted regions like the Middle East and Africa.
Wulf, who stepped down last year as president of the National Academy of Engineering, said that the CRDF, a Virginia-based independent NGO authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1992, advances U.S. national science, foreign affairs, and security priorities by funding international scientific collaborations.
Several programs, for example, brought American and Russian scientists together to transition former weapons of mass destruction labs into civilian research facilites. In his written testimony, Wulf said that CRDF has established more than 50 insitutions in countries around the world to help nations with small economies allocate their limited research and development funds.
"Science and technology collaboration solves important human problems and thus contributes directly to security, prosperity, and health," said Wulf. "They also create those personal relationships and trust that engender peace."
Calvin, who is also a professor of statistics, said that Texas A&M is strongly engaged internationally with 577 foreign faculty scholars from 74 countries, 4,025 international students representing 124 countries, and 132 active memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with universities and research institutions in 45 countries.
In addition, Calvin highlighted a Texas A&M branch campus in Doha, Qatar, underwritten with private money, offering four undergraduate engineering degrees with the same curriculum as programs in College Station, Texas.
Calvin, along with the other panelists, said that funding from the U.S. government for colloborations should be committeed for the long term so that "international collaborators know that they can depend on our pariticpation as they develop and commit their share of the funding model."
Beyond securing long-term funding for collaborations, Leshner said the U.S. government could increase the amount of international activites in federal agencies and departments by reevaluating some of its restrictions on using funds to pay the costs of foreign scientists.
While U.S. taxpayer funds should be used primarily to support American scientists, Leshner said that there are instances where "this limitation can impede the ability of the programs to achieve their overarching goals." Leshner added that the recent European Commission 7th Framework includes a new policy that allows non-European institutions to apply for research funding.
Because any effort to raise the profile of science diplomacy will require strong White House leadership, Leshner emphasized the need for a presidental science advisor "with sufficient rank to work across the entire government." In addition, he said, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, an executive office with general science advisory authority, should have an associate director who has "a clear international mandate" to work with the Department of State and the National Security Council on international science cooporation.
Leshner said that because science and technology are increasingly imbedded "in every aspect of modern life and in every major global policy issue," the U.S. government must find places where innovation could be better integrated into international relations, "not only government-to-government, but critically, civil society-to-civil society."
29 July 2008