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In Shanghai Visit, Neureiter Extols Science Diplomacy as a Key to Discovery and Understanding
Norman P. Neureiter
Norman P. Neureiter, who played a key role in the scientific aspects of President Richard Nixon's overtures to China in the 1970s and now a leader in AAAS science diplomacy efforts, visited Shanghai last month in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Shanghai Association of Science and Technology (SAST).
In a keynote address on the first day of SAST's two-day international forum on "Social Responsibilities of Scientific Organizations," Neureiter focused on the principles, organization, enterprises, and initiatives that define AAAS efforts to advance science and service society. And, as he has often in his career, he said that both research and understanding between peoples can be enhanced when scientists join in international collaboration.
"We very much believe in diplomacy for science and science for diplomacy," Neureiter said in his address to some 300 scientists, government leaders, and others. "... We strongly believe in promoting international cooperation in science—to solve common problems that affect all of the world's people, but also to look upon science as a basis for communication among nations where political relations may be poor or even hostile."
Neureiter is the director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy and senior adviser to the new AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. On the second day of the Shanghai conference, he spoke at a seminar and explored the challenge of communicating effectively with the public on major science-related issues of public debate and concern. As an example, he discussed the response of AAAS and the U.S. research community to the campaign against teaching evolution in U.S. public schools.
To build public understanding of science, he said in an interview, "you don't talkto the public, you talk with the public. Just lecturing them doesn't do the job—you really have to get involved and have a discussion. I think that's a powerful message."
Neureiter also used the China trip to visit several Chinese institutes that are partially supported by the same John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation program that funds the AAAS Center on Science, Technology and Security Policy. Among them: a weapons design organization, a disarmament center, and university centers engaged in analyzing security issues.
The Shanghai Association for Science and Technology, founded in 1958, is a non-government and non-profit organization and a branch of the influential China Association for Science and Technology (CAST). Its represents a multi-disciplinary roster of 180 societies, associations, and institutions with more than 175,000 members. Moreover, SAST has chapters in 19 districts and over 50 large-scale enterprises in Shanghai, which is emerging as a world research center.
"That's why the AAAS relationships with CAST and SAST are so important—because of the enormous reach they have in China," Neureiter said.
"I am deeply convinced that science and technology can be a very effective bridge to other countries. You're dealing with a community where there is truly a common denominator. There's a common understanding about the rules of science, the meaning of terms, and the use of evidence to draw conclusions. That has a way of bubbling over more broadly into the rest of society. And I think that it's a dialogue like that that leads, in a modest way, to a more peaceful world."
AAAS first sent a delegation to China 30 years ago, in late 1978. In recent years, AAAS and science leaders in China have begun to build a collegial relationship that holds considerable promise for the future. AAAS's International Office and the association's new Center for Science Diplomacy have recognized China's growing research power and are working to build bi-lateral understanding and cooperation through exchanges, collaborations on science education, and working together to organize conferences on key issues.
In September 2007, AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner led a delegation to China and signed agreements with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the China Association for Science and Technology to collaborate on publishing and education projects and to seek future engagement in a wide range of fields. As part of that trip, Leshner, AAAS Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian and others previously met with physicist and SAST President Shen Wenqing in Shanghai. The journal Science, published by AAAS, a year ago opened a news bureau in Beijing.
Neureiter's experience in science diplomacy dates back more than 50 years, and earlier this year he was honored with the prestigious Public Welfare Medal from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He was a Fulbright Fellow to Germany in 1955-56. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Northwestern University in 1957. After joining the U.S. Foreign Service in 1965, during the height of the Cold War, he became the first U.S. science attaché in Eastern Europe in 1967, based at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw.
From 1969 to 1973, he served as the international affairs assistant in President Richard Nixon's Office of Science and Technology. In that role, he was responsible for preparing the first package of concrete cooperative science proposals presented to the Chinese leaders in connection with President Nixon's historic 1972 visit. That initiative, along with U.S-Soviet science agreements that he helped to craft, represented an important thaw in Cold War hostilities.
Neureiter made his first visit to China in 1976, as an executive for Texas Instruments. In subsequent years, he traveled extensively in China, India, and elsewhere in Asia. In 2000, he was named the first science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, and served under Madeleine Albright in the administration of President Bill Clinton and under Colin Powell in the administration of George W. Bush. His term expired in 2003, and he joined AAAS in 2004.
In his Shanghai speech, he reflected on how investments in science diplomacy can yield great dividends over time.
"Think back for a minute to 1972, when President Nixon began America's engagement with the leaders of China," he said. "After almost 25 years of complete isolation of both nations from each other, science was one of the items on the agenda when the details of a new U.S.-China relationship were being negotiated....
"And, as you all know, after formal diplomatic relations were established in 1979, science cooperation between our countries and the flow of Chinese science students and graduate researchers to U.S. universities grew at an enormous rate."
Indeed, Neureiter said after his return, for the past two decades, 50,000 to 60,000 Chinese students have come every year to study in the United States, roughly two-thirds of them in science and technology. In times past, many stayed, but today, most of them are returning home to pursue their ambitions at increasingly sophisticated and well-funded laboratories and research centers. The top tiers of Chinese government recently have been dominated by engineers, and the nation's leadership is deeply committed to investment in research and science education to build prosperity and to address national challenges.
Today, China is a land transformed.
"There has been an enormous change since 1976," Neureiter said. "In 1976, there were primarily bicycles in the streets—waves and waves of bicycles flowing down these giant streets, and very few cars. People wore Mao suits.... We all stayed at one hotel—the Peking Hotel—that seemed to be where all guests stayed, in pretty modest circumstances. But today, you're confronted by huge buildings, by Western hotels, streets flooded with cars.
"You have people leading the country who understand what science and technology can do to contribute to the development of their country. That's a tremendous advantage."
2 December 2008