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Popular Radio Times Program Focuses on Science Diplomacy


Rush Holt | Chet Susslin/National Journal

Marty Moss-Coane, host of WHYY’s popular Radio Times program, interviewed two AAAS experts about the value of science diplomacy as a way to build bridges between nations, given the array of global, science-based challenges now in the news.

Moss-Coane, whose public radio program offers insights to an eclectic range of topics, from education to domestic and foreign policy, spoke with AAAS CEO Rush Holt and Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian about the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement, Cuba, climate change, Ebola, and more. The on-air conversation also included writer and historian Audra Wolfe, whose next book will focus on the history of science diplomacy.

Scientific progress “depends on the free flow of ideas, and evidence-based thinking is central to it,” said Holt, executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “Those things have democratizing and civilizing effects. Science can actually advance diplomacy and improve political and diplomatic relations.”


From left, Audra Wolfe, Marty Moss-Coane, Vaughan Turekian | AAAS

Conversely, he said, diplomacy can also “advance the practice of science and extend the benefits of science to people more fairly.” For example, the Iran nuclear agreement, which is slated for a Congressional vote next month, would support international research cooperation related to nuclear physics, astrophysics, and cancer therapies, while also improving security in the Middle East, Holt said.

Turekian, who serves as editor-in-chief of Science & Diplomacy, noted that international collaborations can happen on a very large scale, between high-level geopolitical powers — in the way that the Cold War finally came to an end — or on a small scale, between individual scientists.

Both forms of global engagement can have real impacts on the lives of people, said Turekian, who has written about science diplomacy based on personal experience:  In 2012, his now-healthy son Chip was born with a serious congenital heart defect — a reversal of the aortic and pulmonary arteries — which required surgery. The surgical technique, known as an arterial switch, was first described by a late-18th century Scottish scientist, later developed by a Canadian, and first performed successfully by a Brazilian surgeon of Lebanese ancestry. After Chip’s surgery, his caregivers included a diverse mix of the global science community. Providing hope and a more secure future for the next generation is “a valuable and important part of what science diplomacy is about,” Turekian told Moss-Coane.

AAAS CEO on Science Friday
14 September 2015

After discussing science diplomacy with Radio Times host Marty Moss-Coane on 19 August, AAAS CEO Rush Holt also took part in National Public Radio’s Science Friday program on 11 September.

Science Friday Host Ira Flatow opened the program by asking, “What is the role of scientists in public policy decisions?” He quoted a letter from Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt concerning the risk of an atomic bomb being developed in Nazi Germany. “Those with a privilege to know have the duty to act,” Einstein wrote.

Holt, who recently joined other leading physicists in signing a letter to President Obama that endorsed the Iran Nuclear Deal, agreed that being a scientist comes with both benefits and obligations: “It is a privilege to be a scientist,” he said. “It’s an exciting path of discovery, but there are some obligations that come with it.” A scientist’s specific obligations include, as examples, ensuring that ethical scientific guidelines are followed, and that science is used for the public good.

Scientists also have a civic duty to communicate science to the public, Holt said. To make science more accessible, he added, researchers should avoid technical jargon, and instead focus on the joy of scientific discovery as well as the basic concept of science as “a way of refining our thinking to gain a progressively better and better understanding of the world.”

The spot on Radio Times followed a successful social media campaign, #IAmAScienceDiplomat, which prompted scientists on Twitter to share their diverse stories of global engagement. For instance, graduate student Julie Hecht described her efforts to understand canine cognition, which may have implications for service dogs as well as companion dogs.

At an institutional level, Holt pointed out, global science engagement can also help to address issues ranging from biodiversity — the focus of a AAAS science-diplomacy trip to Myanmar — to infectious disease, which was the subject of the association’s cooperative agreement with the Cuban Academy of Sciences. AAAS has also sent delegations to the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to discuss the seismology of volcanoes, and to Iran to talk about public health concerns.

With the world’s population expected to top 9 billion by mid-century, Moss-Coane noted that climate change and food security are concerns that will increasingly need to be addressed by scientists working across borders.

The theme of the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting, set forth by AAAS President Geraldine Richmond, will be “Global Science Engagement.” Scientific sessions, lectures, and seminars will focus on innovative global collaborations related to food and water security, sustainable development, human health, climate change, natural disasters, energy, and more. The meeting will take place 11-15 February in Washington, D.C.


[Credit for associated teaser image: Flickr/US Naval War College/CC BY 2.0]


Ginger Pinholster

Former Director, Office of Public Programs