U.S. Policies Trouble Scientists Bound for Global Summit at the UA

Researchers and diplomats from around the world converging on the University of Arizona for a conference on science diplomacy and policy share concerns about the new administration.

conference graphicAs U.S. president Donald Trump orders a travel ban and vows to withdraw from the Paris climate deal, dozens of eminent scientists and policy experts are planning to convene at the University of Arizona on February 22 to 24 for a conference on science diplomacy and policy to work on global initiatives around climate change, water in the Americas, and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

Many of the speakers and panelists -- including a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, former U.N. ambassador, former science advisers to the U.S. secretary of state, and key members of leading scientific organizations and universities -- have expressed grave concerns about the new administration’s immigration order and statements giving short shrift to scientific evidence relevant to global policy issues such as climate change.

“We are the recognized world leader in science, technology, and innovation,” which “almost every country now sees as crucial for its prosperity, competitiveness, and security -- they seek to engage with our universities, research labs, and high-tech companies,” wrote E. William Colglazier in a December 2016 editorial for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s publication Science & Diplomacy. “In the presidential debate transcripts, however, the word ‘science’ appears only once and ‘technology’ three times; ‘sustainability’ never comes up.”

Peacekeeping at Stake

Colglazier, who is serving as conference honorary chairman, held top positions at the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council before becoming science and technology adviser to former U.S. secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.  As executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences, and with the encouragement of the State Department, he was involved in scientific collaboration with Iran for over a decade.

E. William Colglazier“Even as relations between the countries grew more difficult, U.S. and Iranian scientists were able to work together on problems in public health, the environment and other areas,” he said in a recent interview.

Panelist Norman Neureiter, a former science and technology adviser to four U.S. presidents and the State Department’s first science and technology adviser in 2000, added, “Collaborators working on problems in science and technology, even from the most unfriendly nations, may come to view the world in a similar way.”

Imperiled Research Endeavors

Panelists are concerned that isolationist policies, such as the executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, may tarnish America’s science leadership reputation and undermine its position as the choice destination for the world’s best and brightest.

Taking in scientists from other countries and supporting their work helped the United States become a science superpower, noted Marga Gual Soler, project director for the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, in a recent Washington Post article.

“Science is students and researchers of every level working together in pursuit of a problem,” she said. “Science is a discipline that cannot be contained within borders.”

Hope for the Future

Nevertheless, many of those slated to appear at the conference remain optimistic that in the long run a universal awareness of science’s importance and the aspirations of young people will prevail.

“In my three years at the State Department, I worked with more than 70 countries,” Colglazier said. “No matter what their level of development, these countries all wanted to know the same thing: How they could create an innovative economy for a prosperous and secure society.”

He added, “What has struck me most of all is when I deal with young people -- even from vastly different cultures and systems of government -- they all want to gain knowledge in science and technology and apply it to build a better world.”

Other conference speakers include Thomas R. Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Israel, Russia and many other countries; Vaughan Turekian, science and technology adviser to the U.S. secretary of state; and Peter Agre, Nobel laureate in chemistry and director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

“This timely conference -- where students and practitioners in science and engineering, law and medicine, public health and the social sciences can directly engage in discussions on science and diplomacy with experts from throughout the Western Hemisphere -- reflects our commitment to open dialogue and exchange of ideas,” said Jeff Goldberg, dean of the UA College of Engineering, which is cosponsoring the conference with the Office of Global Initiatives.

A roundtable -- free and open to the public -- on Wednesday, February 22, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., will feature Pickering and Agre. Thursday and Friday are also open to the public, but require a registration fee. All sessions take place at the Tucson Marriott University Park, 880 East Second St., Tucson, Arizona. More information can be found at the conference registration page.


Top photo: NOAA

The conference is cosponsored by the UA College of Engineering, Office of Global Initiatives, Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, Institute of the Environment, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the University of Arizona Foundation.