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AAAS Meetings with UK, Irish Science Leaders Yield New Ideas for Collaboration
(l-r) Tom Wang, AAAS Director for International Cooperation; Jimmy Devins, Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation; James J. McCarthy, president of AAAS; and Patrick Cunningham, chief scientific adviser to the government of Ireland, during a visit at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in Dublin.
A whirlwind trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland, led by AAAS President James J. McCarthy, reaffirmed old ties and produced new ideas for future cooperative ventures.
The three-day visit, from 8-10 July, took McCarthy and AAAS Director for International Cooperation Tom Wang to Cambridge, London, and Dublin for a series of meetings with top officials in research, science education, government, and other science and engineering fields. McCarthy described the reception as gracious and the talks as wide-ranging.
There were some important recurring themes. "More effective communication of the findings of science and the wise use of this information in policy processes was an undercurrent in many of our discussions," he said.
"Another common thread in discussions with academics and government officials was that of outreach efforts to religious groups for the purpose of exploring areas of common concern and agreement. There was broad interest in initiatives that could nurture such dialogue with Islamic faith communities."
And, he added: "Everyone with whom we met seemed keen to explore avenues for cooperation with AAAS."
In Dublin, McCarthy and Wang met with Jimmy Devins, the Irish minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, and Patrick Cunningham, the chief science adviser to the Irish government. Cunningham hosted the visit, which also included meetings with top staff from the Royal Irish Academy and at tours of Trinity College Dublin and the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research at University College Dublin.
Cunningham, in e-mailed remarks, said Ireland in the mid-1990s began a "serious" commitment to science and technology, leading to "steadily increasing investment" by both government and business.
"This has been one of the drivers of a remarkable and sustained period of economic growth—an average of 7% per annum between 1997 and 2007," he wrote. "The Irish government is committed to doubling the science establishment between 2006 and 2013, and we are at present adding 40 new research groups in our seven universities each year.
"As part of this drive to create a genuine knowledge-based society," Cunningham added, "Dublin is bidding for the title of European City of Science in 2012. With serious competition from other European cities, this will be centred around an event somewhat modeled on the annual AAAS meeting, and on the same scale.
"As part of that, we hope to strengthen links on science issues across the Atlantic, and we have suggested to Dr. McCarthy that one theme might well be 'the Atlantic—a shared resource, a shared responsibility,' in which the scientific challenges of managing this sea that unites us will be explored."
The circulation of the North Atlantic is an important aspect of the climate of northeast United States, eastern Canada, the UK and northern Europe. An Atlantic theme of a future European City of Science event could also highlight the importance of strong partnerships in climate and ocean science and studies of possible future climate impacts across this entire region.
In Cambridge, McCarthy and Wang met with Miranda Gomperts, director of the Darwin 2009 anniversary festival in Cambridge [AAAS/Science is a sponsor of the festival] that will be held next July to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.
(l-r) Michael Dixon, director of the British Natural History, and McCarthy flank a statue of Charles Darwin during a tour of the museum in London
In London, they met with Michael Dixon, director of the British Natural History Museum; with him they discussed the importance of natural history museums in educating the public, and AAAS's interests in this area
In addition, they met with Brian Ferrar, the science counselor at the UK Embassy in Washington, D.C.; Jock Whittlesey, science counselor at the U.S. Embassy in London; and top officials from the Royal Society, Imperial College, and the nation's new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. In each of these discussions ideas emerged for further discussion related to new and enhanced partnerships with AAAS.
The meetings came just a few days before the biennial EuroScience Open Forum in Barcelona, Spain, where a delegation of top AAAS officials gave talks and organized symposia. Taken together, the visits gave AAAS an opportunity to strengthen the longstanding bond between science in Europe and the United States.
Said Wang: "Working with our partners in Europe, with its strong scientific institutions and shared scientific traditions, is key to addressing science and society issues that cross the Atlantic and national boundaries, from global challenges with climate change, energy, and food to science literacy and education."
11 August 2008