I had promised in my last blog to be back with an article to discuss some plausible paths to a career in science diplomacy. However, I gleaned from the reader comments that the concept of science diplomacy seemed abstract to many. Therefore, before we get to careers and transition paths, I would like to linger a little longer on the definition and cite a few concrete examples.
Policy is a two-way street between the government and the public1,2. Science policy experts are links between the world of research, the government, and the public. These experts are entrusted with the responsibility of shaping and formalizing the government’s stance on particular scientific issues and controversies, as well as drafting legislation to address them. Besides their own policy experts, politicians often call upon outside analysts working at scientific non-profits for recommendations and reviews on the bills they draft. In the words of Dr. Laura Hoopes, emeritus professor at Pomona College, CA and former AAAS-fellow, ‘‘Science Policy really addresses two different themes: policy for science and science for policy. Policy for science is probably what most scientists think of when they think of “science policy”. It revolves around questions on how to fund science, and how to create goals for scientific research. In contrast, science for policy is more about how scientific evidence can contribute to the decision-making process.’’
Policies are drafted not only at national level, but also at subnational as well as international level. This leads us to the topic of ‘science in diplomacy’ where some policy experts, by dint of their background in specific scientific disciplines as well as economics and international affairs, advice to inform and support foreign policy objectives of a country. For example, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is a government agency of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs which works to reduce poverty and promote development and equality. The SIDA-supported Health Nutrition and Population Sector Programme (HNPSP2) in Bangladesh is the world´s largest health sector programme3.
‘Science in Diplomacy’ is crucial in combating issues that have far-reaching consequences well beyond national levels, such as climate change, emergence of new infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance etc. An erroneous policy of one nation can impact the health and economy of not only its neighboring countries but the entire world. United Nations is constantly pushing for evidence-based policies customized to the needs and circumstances of every stake-holder to realize the sustainable development goals (SDGs) worldwide.
As I had mentioned in my earlier blog, ‘Science Diplomacy’ refers to three main types of activities:
- “Science in diplomacy”
- “Science for diplomacy”
- “Diplomacy for science”
Since we already touched upon the topic of ‘science in diplomacy’, we are left with the other two undertakings. The way I see it, ‘Science for Diplomacy’ is when scientific collaborations are used as a tool to improve diplomatic relationship between two nations. However, not all international scientific cooperations qualify. Such cooperations when established, and maintained with an ulterior diplomatic motive constitutes science diplomacy. Scientists are at a unique position to foster such connections. The relationship between two countries could be strained but they are usually still open to the idea of scientific exchange for the greater good. Prior to Obama administration, this approach was popularly known as ‘soft power’. The US-Iran nuclear deal of 2015, recent improvements in US- Cuba relations are prominent examples. Despite half a century long political impasse between US and Cuba, American Association for the Advancement of Science had been silently collaborating with the Cuban Academy of Sciences since 1997. This scientific cooperation formed the bedrock for the reestablishment of bilateral relations in December 2014. Contrary to popular notion, it is not always that the less developed country gets to benefit more from such relations. An interesting example is the US discovery of Cuba-developed lung cancer vaccine, Climavax, which has now been approved by FDA. Here are some good articles describing the role of science diplomacy in rebuilding of US-Cuba relations:
Update: This article was written prior to the executive order by President Trump to revise some of the Cuba policies of Obama era. The extent to which the diplomatic and scientific cooperation between the two countries would change is unclear at present.
The flip side of the coin are the nations with friendly diplomatic relations who could still benefit from establishing better and more effective ties through scientific collaborations (Diplomacy for Science). The most personal example in my mind is that of Germany and India. Historically, these two nations never faced any insurmountable diplomatic obstacle. Nevertheless, recognizing the benefits of science and technology collaboration with India and possibly, as a strategy to attract young highly-skilled talent into the country (Replacement Migration4), Germany has been making great efforts in engaging with India through ‘Science Diplomacy’. Unknowingly, we ourselves might have reaped positive benefits from such efforts. Back in 2010 when I set off for the Germany, little did I know how my career path had already been touched so closely by science diplomacy. German House for Research and Innovation at New Delhi is actively involved in facilitating bilateral projects in higher education, language, science, research and innovation. One significant step forward in the bilateral relations was signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in April, 2006 during the visit by the then Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh to Germany. As a part of this Science and Technology Collaboration, the Indo-German Science Centre for Infectious Diseases (IG-SCID) was opened in 2007. To foster cooperation through joint workshops and exchange programs, the IG-SCID brought together the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research and the Hanover Medical School (MHH). This policy had impacted me personally as I was able to interview in-person with professors from MHH at New Delhi to secure a full scholarship for my doctoral studies at MHH. Such stories are only a small part of the boon of such diplomatic endeavors.
I hope that this article sheds some more light on the premise of science diplomacy. The next blog topic would be career track in science policy and diplomacy. So long!
About the author:
Debanjana is an Immunologist / Clinical Coordinator at Columbia University, NY. She is passionate about traveling, dancing, and languages. She is here to share the musings of her meandering mind.
Featured image: Pixabay
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