When tensions among nations are at their height, connections among scientists can be a powerful avenue for maintaining ties and backdoor diplomacy. It worked during the Cold War, when scientists in Washington and Moscow joined together to advocate for a nuclear arms control agreement. The Obama administration is renewing the emphasis on “science diplomacy,” in the hopes of building bridges in unfriendly territory and as a way to strengthen ties with allies.
- Norman Neureiter Senior Adviser to the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy; Chair of the Senior Advisory Board to the AAAS publication "Science & Diplomacy"
- Alice Gast President of Lehigh University; U.S. Science Envoy to Central Asia and the Caucuses
- Alex Dehgan Science and Technology Adviser to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Political leaders and diplomats may be the public face of international relations, but when tensions between nations are at their highest, connections between scientists can be an avenue for unofficial diplomacy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe first Nuclear Arms Control Agreement during the Cold War was initiated by scientists joining forces across the Iron Curtain. In the decades since, science diplomacy has become a powerful tool for collaboration with both allies and enemies. That collaboration might be officially sanctioned and government-funded or it might be the work of universities, non-profits or private companies.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss science diplomacy is Norman Neureiter. He is the senior advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science AAAS. He's also chair of the senior advisory board at the new AAAS publication Science and Diplomacy. Norm Neureiter, thank you for joining us.
MR. NORMAN NEUREITERWhat a pleasure it is to be here. I've listened to your program for so long and it's just wonderful to be here.
NNAMDIThe pleasure is mutual. Dr. Neureiter is a veteran in the field of science and diplomacy going back to the Kennedy administration. He served as science advisor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the Clinton administration.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University and U.S. Science Envoy to Central Asia and the Caucuses. Prior to that, Alice Gast taught chemical engineering at MIT and at Stanford. Alice Gast, thank you for joining us.
MS. ALICE GASTThank you for having me. It's wonderful to be here.
NNAMDIAlex Dehgan also joins us. He is the science and technology advisor to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID is the agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. By training, he is an evolutionary biologist. Alex Dehgan, thank you for joining us.
MR. ALEX DEHGANIt's an honor to be here. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIThank you also for being in studio. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you would like to join this conversation. What role do you think scientific cooperation plays in bridging divisions between countries? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Norm, for those who are not familiar with the concept, how would you define science diplomacy?
NEUREITERIt's a strategy of engagement. It's a way of trying to find a group of people to whom you can talk in other countries and you use science as an instrument of that constructive engagement. And some people say, well, why do you work with people that we don't like and so on? Well, the fascinating thing about science is you quickly find a common language because you're not there to discuss diplomatic issues. You are there to find common issues in science that you can work together on.
NEUREITERAnd it's amazing, you very quickly find people who understand what you've been doing, very often they've been doing the same kind of thing separately and so you're coming together and beginning to do something. And then you hope as you do this that you build sort of an atmosphere of trust between you and trust is the beginning of better relationships.
NNAMDIBut this has always gone on between nations. You say, however, the Kennedy administration may have been the first to deliberately engage using science as one of our diplomatic tools.
NEUREITERWell, there's always been international scientific cooperation. Ever since there were scientists, they began cooperating with people who were working on the same issue. But for a politician, for a government official to say, I'm going to try to engage with the other country through science, that was new. And it was Ambassador Reischauer who had been a professor at Harvard that President Kennedy appointed as his ambassador to Japan.
NEUREITERAnd when he was there, he did an article for Foreign Affairs called "The Broken Dialogue" and what he saw was the relationship between the intellectual communities of the two countries falling apart. And so at a dinner at the White House, when Prime Minister Ikeda came from Japan, he raised his glass in a toast and created three committees.
NEUREITEROne was a cabinet committee on economics, one was a cultural committee with universities and for the first time in American history, he created a joint committee on scientific cooperation between the U.S. and Japan. The thrill for me was that I just had joined the National Science Foundation and I ended up chairing that program for two years and it was a thrill.
NEUREITERAnd in fact, that program in a way still goes on today, that relationship with Japan. And look how relations with Japan have changed in 50 years.
NNAMDISince that time, Alice Gast, one of the premises of science diplomacy is that no matter how strained relations are between two countries, there's the possibility, some would say, maybe even the likelihood that scientists can still work together. Can you talk about that?
GASTI think it's very true. Scientists are driven by curiosity, by understanding the world around them. And they also shape their ideas and their opinions based on facts and based on information. And so as soon as you meet another scientist, you have a common bond. As Norm says, we speak a common language and you're welcomed with open arms when you travel and meet fellow scientists in all parts of the world.
NNAMDIAlex, you see collaboration in science as something Americans are particularly well equipped to do. Why is that?
DEHGANI think that there are values inherent in science and technology that are American values. They are values of honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, transparency, openness, meritocracy, tolerance, even a hunger for an opposing point of view. These are really important values for us to be able to engage in.
DEHGANSecondly, I think that the world really respects American science even when their opinion of U.S. politics are at resounding lows, their views of U.S. science and technology is sometimes 80-90 percent positive.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. How do you think U.S. scientists can level the playing field with counterparts in the developing world? 800-433-8850. Alice Gast, the Obama administration is putting a particular focus on science and technology in diplomacy. You have been appointed Science Envoy to Central Asia and the Caucuses. What exactly is your role?
GASTThe role really is to travel as a private citizen, not as a member of the U.S. government and to gather information and to look for the opportunities for sustainable partnerships. And so in that role, I had the opportunity to meet with government officials and scientific institute directors, university leaders.
GASTAnd again, I was welcomed with opened arms by fellow scientists, but the opportunity there is that a science envoy can try to look for partnerships that will occur between our own laboratories, our universities and universities in these countries. We think of the common strengths, the places where we will find common ground and our scientists would be particularly interested in collaborating or travelling to these other countries.
NNAMDIAs a science envoy, you are appointed by the U.S. government, but you are, in fact, a citizen diplomat, something you have to clarify at times when you meet with foreign officials and foreign scientists. Can you explain?
GASTI do find that when you meet with government officials and the countries -- I visited were former Soviet nations and the government officials tend to speak in longer paragraphs full of talking points and I think that those discussions are beneficial as I can carry messages and build goodwill.
GASTBut the less formal meetings occurred when I got to meet with university leaders, people who are colleagues and peers of my own and lab directors where we're really speaking more scientist to scientist and in much more candid ways. So I had to remind them from time to time that I was not speaking for the government, I was just a private citizen.
NNAMDIWell this is not a new tradition. As you pointed out, Norm Neureiter, it goes way back during wars. Scientists still often had connections?
NEUREITERWell, certainly during the Cold War, there were a lot of them. When there's a hot war, well, that interferes with a lot of communication and so on. But what you hope is that when war may threaten that, somehow the relationships, that thin strand which science cooperation represents, that that somehow keeps things on a stable plane and makes it possible actually to solve problems and not increase them.
NEUREITERAnyway, I think the history of engagement has been very good. It was fascinating that as part of his breakthrough with China, I still remember I was on the White House staff then, and I remember when Dr. Kissinger came to my boss, who was the president's science advisor, and he said to him, I want to offer the Chinese something a little more than a global political repositioning.
NEUREITERI want to -- so work up some science initiatives, work up something concrete and we did in complete secrecy. We worked up 40 initiatives. They went to China and when you read the Shanghai Communique, the result of that visit, which was an absolute breakthrough in political relationships, one of the areas suggested for future cooperation was science.
NNAMDINorm Neureiter is the senior advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He's also chair of the senior advisory board at the new AAAS publication Science and Diplomacy. He joins us in studio along with the President of Lehigh University, Alice Gast. She is also U.S. Special Envoy to Central Asia and the Caucuses. And Alex Dehgan is the science and technology advisor to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, the agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid.
NNAMDIHere now is Huff in Washington, D.C. Huff, you're on the air. Please don all your headphones, please, so you can all hear Huff. Huff, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.
HUFFThank you, thank you, Kojo. This is Huff, the music man and I'm just wondering, I've gone to many countries, including China, and not knowing the language, I would say through the science of music, I was able to communicate and actually make quite a few friends with the Chinese. And I'm just wondering, why can't we just use human nature just to start learning how to be nice and understand each other and I believe communication is the key.
HUFFIf we learn how to speak to each other and understand each other better, as opposed to just understanding each other through what the media wants us to think about each other, we can all get along just a little better.
NNAMDIThat's funny that you should mention that, Huff, because just a couple of weeks ago on this broadcast, we discussed using the arts as another form of diplomacy. You all know about the role that jazz music, for instance, has played in American diplomacy throughout the decades. Well, we talked about broadening that in the arts and today we're just discussing science diplomacy. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Alex, you were with the USAID and you see the field of development as, in a way, the purest form of science diplomacy. Why?
DEHGANIf you look at the roles of science diplomacy, it's got to be more than just public diplomacy, but actually has to be based on real science. And it occurs best when it's least politicized, when the benefits go both ways, when it meets real needs and challenges within countries. And what we do in development is provide that technical expertise and now even more so as we take on some of the grand challenges of our day.
DEHGANThose challenges are not just ones that affect developing countries, they're ones that can affect us at home. And by working together, we can actually address some of these problems and through science create a framework on which a scaffolding, on which we can have our official relationships as well.
NNAMDISome say that the roles of scientists and diplomats are fundamentally at odds. Scientific collaboration thrives on transparency without politics while diplomacy has to advance the interests of the country. Do you see those things necessarily as being at odds, Alice Gast?
GASTNo, I don't at all. I think that, as our caller said, whenever you get people who are passionate about something and they find people who are equally passionate about that field on the other side you can be absolutely open and transparent. And the world of science is so based on communication and now we have the ability to communicate across the world very easily. So collaborations can be built with single encounters and then kept alive through communication and sending information back and forth. So it's very easy to collaborate across boundaries and I think that it's a good way to promote openness and transparency.
NNAMDIBut politics always make the waters just a little bit muddier. Here's an email we got from Tonya in D.C. "All this science diplomacy sounds nice," writes Tonya, "but let's talk about what these folks really get to do and what they get to know. For instance, how much are American scientists working with the Iranian nuclear scientists? And is it informing our foreign policy or not?" Certain areas, Norm Neureiter, are really delicate and this is one.
NEUREITERThis is a very appropriate question. I've just come back from Iran just a week ago and I was there along with Peter Agre, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. He runs the Malaria Institute there. We were invited by the vice president -- they have six vice presidents in Iran -- by the vice-president for science and technology. And we went there, not to solve the nuclear issue, right, not to discuss political things, but to continue the relationship which exists between American and Iranian scientists, which over the last ten years, initially started by our National Academy of Sciences and the Iranian Academy of Sciences, has developed quite a remarkable level.
NEUREITERWe can talk with those people. We don't go there to negotiate the nuclear thing. And, by the way, we don't cooperate with them in nuclear science. But there are things in the environment, there are things in earthquakes, there are things in food borne disease, there are all kinds of issues where you in fact can work together. Now working's not so simple. There are visa problems and there are export control problems and there are sanction problems, but you can communicate. You can have seminars, you can have joint workshops.
NEUREITERSometimes they're in the U.S., sometimes they're in Iran and sometimes they're in third countries. But those are possible and they've been remarkably good. And, in fact, there are Iranian students who still come to the U.S. and they would like to have more American students coming to Iran but that's also not so simple.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, if you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you have not, the number's 800-433-8850. Are you a scientist who has worked with counterparts abroad? What was your experience? You can also send us a Tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking science diplomacy with Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University and U.S. Science Envoy to Central Asia and the Caucuses. Alex Dehgan is the science and technology advisor to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, which is responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. And Norm Neureiter is the senior advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He's also chair of the Senior Advisory Board at the new AAAS publication science and diplomacy.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Ken in Gaithersburg, Md. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENThank you for taking my call, Kojo.
KENFirst, a little about me. I grew up in Taiwan. I speak two dialects of Chinese quite fluently. I'm a physician. I was also formerly in intelligence and is also a member of the Committee for Medical Advancement in China.
KENAnd my viewpoint is actually diametrically opposed to your panelists'.
KENIt's my experience -- well, it's my experience having been in China and also having been on the intelligence side, that a great deal of what we think of as innocuous intelligence -- innocuous technology and science transfer is sought after for less than friendly purposes by the Chinese. The Chinese do not consider us a friendly power. And I'm in some ways reminded of the selling of the scrap of the Third Avenue El to the Japanese which came back to us as bullets.
KENThe Chinese are very much involved in using electronic and computer-based technologies against us, many of which were transferred innocuously. They constantly are seeking military applications technology. And as far as medical technologies are concerned they are actively looking for technologies which can be used in the marketplace to compete with us.
NNAMDIAs a science envoy, Alice Gast, do you have to take into consideration the possible uses of science and technology when you're talking about scientific exchanges and scientific collaborations?
GASTYou know, I think we benefit so much from the relationships that are developed between scientists that it actually can outweigh these issues that the caller raises. Certainly we have export control regulations and approaches to making sure that areas of national security interests are protected. But by and large, I believe the technology development and the scientific developments are certainly not unique to the United State. We don't have an absolutely market share on it and we're better off, I believe, collaborating to promote the advancement of science rather than trying to sequester ourselves and be in isolation.
NNAMDIWell, Norm Neureiter, you recently visited North Korea, an interesting case of completely closed country with almost no lines of communications. And it is my understanding, Ken you should know, that that visit was organized jointly with a Beijing-based organization. Tell us about what you were trying to accomplish there.
NEUREITERWell, we were looking for a way to engage with these people in something constructive. And with response to the last question, you don't work in highly sensitive areas with people. There are issues with China, but you have to make the choice, do you engage with people or do you try to isolate them? And isolation, in fact, has not been a very successful strategy in the history. Some kind of engagement is desirable and we try to do peaceful engagement, which does not endanger U.S. security.
NEUREITERNow with North Korea, it was on -- through this Chinese organization which focuses on environment and has an ability to communicate with North Korean institutions. We don't directly. It's very difficult. And so we were offered the opportunity to do a workshop with them on the subject of reforestation, restoration ecology. Their forests have been destroyed. People -- and they told us all this. Anyway, we had a big workshop. Eighty-five of their scientists came. We only had 14 people on our side, only five Americans total.
NEUREITERBut for three days ,we exchanged presentations. And it's amazing, after a day-and-a-half, they began telling us openly their problems. We began -- we had five Americans and then the rest were Europeans, people experienced in forestry and restoration ecology and so on. It was an amazing exchange. Now we didn't have a lot of one-on-one sessions with individuals. There was always a minder there with you. But -- and I once complained about that. They said, ah Norman, step by step. In other words, this organization in China, which is actually run by a German one, she has a relationship of trust built up with these people. And it was a pretty amazing seminar.
NEUREITERAnd in the end, we went to a park, a beautiful park up in the mountains. I'm describing North Korea. This is really surprising stuff, but it was quite amazing and it would be nice to continue this. We're now working on some seismic projects there if it can ever be arranged, but it's very complicated.
NNAMDIKen, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us. Are you a student or professor in the sciences who has been part of an exchange in another country? You might want to share your experience with us at 800-433-8850. Or if you'd like to comment on what role do you think scientific cooperation plays in bridging divisions between countries? 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIAlex Dehgan, how important is trust when you implement programs? Last week, a local commander blocked the vaccination program in the Pakistan Tribal Belt because of fears of espionage by the CIA. They cite the covert operation that used a vaccination campaign to covertly determine if Osama bin Laden lived in the compound in Abbottabad. So how important is trust?
DEHGANTrust is actually really important and, in fact, science diplomacy works best when it's least politicized and it's actually clear and transparent in terms of what we're trying to do. And that is, you know, one of the important goals of development is to understand that we're working together. We're really trying to leverage skills and ideas in different countries to be able to cooperate to solve some of these global challenges. I think that there's -- we have recognized, A, that there is great intelligence and great ideas all over the world but opportunity is not everywhere. And a lot of what we want to do is try to provide that opportunity. You can't provide that opportunity without trust.
NNAMDIWe talked about North Korea, we talked about Iran. But coming -- prior to coming to USAID, you worked with the Department of State in Iraq. What were you doing there?
DEHGANMy role in Iraq was to try to redirect former weapon scientists back into civilian science. And that was based actually, responding to the former caller, I think on this idea that you actually can miss -- avoid the misuse of science through engagement rather than isolation. I think, you know, in development we see this in terms of we want to provide through our foreign assistance the opportunities to allow other countries to have the ability to address their own problems. We want to actually connect with governments and their people. And the people is an important part of what we do. We want to allow the door to be opened for further engagement.
DEHGANAnd we -- you know, quite frankly, we have to take into account that, you know, the Chinese are training thousands of scientists in Africa and other places in the world, things that USAID used to do. And that provides a connection that lasts well beyond those programs. Where -- you know, for us to train people we're providing them opportunities to learn about America, to learn about our values and to build those bridges that science provides through common language, common communication. And this is more important now than I think than ever.
DEHGANThe new president of Egypt is a PhD chemical engineer that was trained at USC. We have a bond. He was at Cal State actually as a professor for many years. This is -- we are very worried about what's going to happen in Egypt and this is an opportunity that we have.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that because you are sitting here in the capitol of our own country which is generally known as a town of lawyer leaders. But you notice that one reason the ties between the U.S. and scientists in the developing world are so important is the point you were just making, is because scientists in those countries often assume significant leadership positions. As opposed to here, where it seems like lawyers tend more leadership positions. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation.
NNAMDIWhat role do you think scientific cooperation plays in bridging divisions between countries? Are you a scientist who has worked with counterparts abroad? You may want to call us to share your experience. Norm, connecting through science and research is also important because countries that have good relations need to do that, too. Can you talk a little bit about what science and diplomacy means for the relationship between allies?
NEUREITERThere are many examples of science cooperation and it's easy between allies because you don't have this political problem. So in our center at AAAS, we have concentrated on working with those really hard countries because I think we bring a certain amount of experience to it. And I also believe looking down into the future -- or up into the future, it's a very useful and important thing to do.
NEUREITERBut among allies, it's essential that on these big millennial problems, these big issues of global health and food and land use and resources and energy and all of these big things, it is essential that among the allied countries, among our friends that we do coordinate our efforts. It takes a lot of money to solve these problems and we have to work together. It is a global world no matter what we think. No country, not the U.S., not China, nobody lives in isolation. The seas are being polluted and the seas are in common. The water goes everywhere.
NEUREITERAnd so you have to work together and there are various mechanisms. Some of it is through the UN, some of it is done country to country. There have been consortia created with a number of members for different purposes. It's a very important dimension but we call that more international cooperation than we do international science, however -- or than we do science diplomacy, however there is a lot of science involved in diplomacy. For instance, suppose you have the issue of global warming. That is a diplomatic issue because it's a global issue. And you need good science to back up your conclusions about it.
NEUREITERSo that's what we really call science in diplomacy, science supporting diplomacy but it's not science for diplomacy.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of our allies and science diplomacy, Alice Gast, you were in Kazakhstan last summer. And why is Kazakhstan an important strategic ally for the U.S.?
GASTKazakhstan is extremely important. It's the ninth largest land mass in the world. It's got huge resources and oil, gas and minerals. It has the largest border with Russia and it has a large border with China. So it's strategically located. Due to their heritage under the Soviet Union they have tremendous infrastructure of science institutes, universities and hospitals and quite a very highly educated population and very eager to collaborate with the West.
GASTOne of the great things about Kazakhstan is they very quickly embraced sending students abroad. They have the Bolashak scholars who've studied in Europe and the U.S. over the past 15 years or so. And they're obliged to come back and spend five years in their country. And you find them really world savvy and eager to collaborate around the world. And they're working in embassies and corporations and in these laboratories.
NNAMDIKazakhstan is looking to develop its economy beyond oil and mineral wealth, it's my understanding. And that's an area where apparently collaboration can help. Can you talk about that?
GASTVery much so. You know, every country would like to improve their situation and Kazakhstan would like to become an innovation economy with higher value added goods and services. And so they're building upon their natural resources but also their education base to develop programs that will put them further ahead than a commodity-based economy will. And I think there's some really interesting opportunities for collaboration. They have unique long term strengths and their ability to mine poor -- ores for minerals. And they have interesting rare earth minerals. They're on a bird migratory path and so it's a very interesting place to study avian influenza.
GASTThey have very unique environmental challenges because of the decades of Soviet nuclear testing and the nuclear storage facilities that were in the region. And so there are many topics where they can help the rest of the world. As Norm said, these problems don't know boundaries. And we need to recognize that collaborating on these grand challenges is extremely important.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of boundaries, you mentioned earlier Kazakhstan has boundaries with both Russia and China. For you Kazakhstan represents both the potential and the limitations of science as a central part of diplomacy. How so?
GASTI think that science is critically important, science and technology and education. And as an education leader I saw one of my roles is to help them think about how to promote international educational exchanges and to attract people into their country. I think that they can build that strength by inviting people in. I think of the Von Hombalt Program that Germany has which has for decades built very strong relationships where a scientist has an opportunity to spend a year of time over a five-year-period and develop really lasting relationships.
GASTI think one can benefit also from bringing in industry. These corporations working in these countries are required to have a certain fraction of their work force be from that country, and more and more a certain fraction of their management team. So it's in the corporation's interest to have a highly educated workforce, and I think that spans beyond just the scientific research, and really speaks to how to help them with their education systems.
NNAMDIOnto Tom in Arlington, Va. Tom, your turn.
TOMThank you. My question is for Alex I think probably more than anybody, but also for Norman. Where are you going to get the money to collaborate with the scientists, especially in the developing countries, in this tough budget environment that the federal agencies face now? Federal agencies typically can only devote their money to the U.S. side of collaboration, and it's very rare that they can get money to pay for anybody on the other side, and the developing world doesn't have a lot of money to put into science at all, let alone into science collaboration. So how are you going to work that?
NNAMDIAlex, you first.
DEHGANThat is a great, great question, and essentially the answer is how we leverage federal agencies. In particular, we've set up a partnership called PEER, Partners for Enhanced Engagement and Research NSF is funding American scientists and we are funding the developing country counterparts that actually work together on global challenges, and we review those proposals for both development impact, as well as scientific merit. And one of the great things was we had just an outstanding sort of reply to that program with almost 500 applications from 63 countries out of the 79 countries where USAID works around the world.
DEHGANAnd so it is leveraging those resources at NASA, NSF, NIH, which taxpayers have already invested in that we can do this. The second way has been through our grand challenges for development. We have partnered with the rest of the world to really take on these big problems, because as Norm says, these problems are bigger than any single county, and so we have partnered with DFID and the World Bank and Grand Challenges Canada, Norway, among other countries to really be able to take a single approach to addressing these problems.
DEHGANAnd one of the great things about the grand challenge is 50 percent of the applications have come from the developing world.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Tom, I hope that answered your question.
TOMAbsolutely. Thanks very much guys. Take care.
NNAMDIWe'll continue our conversation on science diplomacy when we return. If you've already called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If not, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's a conversation on science diplomacy with Alex Dehgan, science and technology advisor to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, the agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. He's an evolutionary biologist by training. Alice Gast is the president of Lehigh University and U.S. Science Envoy to Central Asia and the caucuses. Prior to that she taught chemical engineering at MIT and at Standard, and Norm Neureiter is the senior advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
NNAMDIHe's also chair of the senior advisory board at the new AAAS publication, science and diplomacy. I'd like to go directly back to the phones and Carey in Annapolis, Md. Carey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAREYHi Kojo. Thanks for having me on.
CAREYI am a second-year physics student at George Mason University, and I'd often thought around my studies that maybe if I could tackle -- I'm also very involved in politics -- that maybe if I could tackle some of these extremely difficult concepts in physics, that, you know, maybe I could make a difference in politics. And the thought often occurred to me that it would be that from a scientific standpoint you have to use understanding and logic a lot more often than from a lawyer's job where you have to persuade and, you know, try to get them to your point.
CAREYI feel like it's a much more constructive idea from a scientific standpoint to use the understanding, and I just never knew that something like this organization existed, and I think it's absolutely great.
NNAMDIHere's Norm Neureiter.
NEUREITERListen, you might be interested in this online publication which we just created at AAAS. You can get it at www.sciencediplomacy.org, and we are accepting manuscripts from any people who would like to write on this subject. The whole broad issue of the relationship of science to international affairs and diplomacy, and you'll find different views in that, you'll find different people writing from senators down to working scientists and so on. So it's a very interesting journal, and we'll give you -- I think taken your position, a physicist thinking he can also have an impact on politics, I think it's the perfect document for you to look at every month, and you'll always find something on that website, sciencediplomacy.org.
NNAMDICarey, thank you very much for your call.
CAREYAbsolutely. Thank you for answering my call.
NNAMDIHere is Josh in Washington D.C. Josh, your turn.
JOSHThank you, Kojo. I just -- I wanted to pick up on what the previous caller from Virginia was speaking about in terms of declining U.S. foreign assistance levels, and just really I guess underscore some of the work that Dr. Dehgan has done in the past, and what a great value add that has been for a relatively small sum of money, especially his work in Iraq.
JOSHAnd so I think Dr. Dehgan knows where we're coming from on this and can speak a little bit more about the value add of funding science diplomacy and the impact that it can have for a relatively small amount of money, especially in comparison to what we spend on other defense-related items.
DEHGANWe spend less than one percent of our federal budget on foreign assistance. People think it's much, much greater than that when it actually isn't. And if you look at some of the challenges we're taking on, whether it is agricultural disease or pandemic diseases, energy problems, I mean, think about the impact of 700 million people who make under two dollars a day when they all get air conditioning in India. Thinking about the water changes that we're seeing, the climatic changes and the environmental changes.
DEHGANYou know, our need to address global health, to address these is fundamental to our own security at the end of the day, and it is one that builds relationships that endure well beyond the length of these programs. We have an opportunity because of the democratization of science, the democratization of communications, cell phones, the computing power that is exponentially decreasing in cost and increasing in power, the amount of data available in the world that doubles every two years, and even things like genetics where 13, you know, the human genome took 13 years and $2.7 billion to sequence one genome, and there are companies now in California that can do it under a thousand dollars.
DEHGANHow do we harness these tools to be able to address these problems, and using science and diplomacy to achieve our development goals, and to achieve our diplomatic goals, and then, you know, what is the risk if we don't use these things? What if we don't use science? What does this mean in terms of our ability to address development problems, and then what happens to those people who are disconnected.
DEHGANYou know, that chasm that's there between those people who have access to the greatest amount of knowledge we've ever had in humankind, and those who are disconnected, those are places of despondency that cause -- that breed terrorism, that cause problems against our national security, and this is why an investment in development is an investment in growth, it's an investment in our economy. It is a way to create future economies for the U.S.
NNAMDIJosh, thank you very much for your call. Alice Gast, it would seem to many people that the expertise in these collaborations and exchanges goes only one way. For instance, here is Jay in Potomac, Md. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYYeah. Thank you, Kojo. I would like to present that this program is misguided, naïve and very counterproductive. You have to see what's happening, the results are that we are several trillions of dollars in debt and indebted to countries where we have turned over our technology through idealistic collaborations, or they've just stole it from us, and if we wanted to stay on their market, it's too bad. They've then used that money to purchase the most key resources.
JAYAsk your friends who owns 90 percent of the Bolivia's lithium. It isn't the United States. We won't even have an opportunity to mine it there. If you ask people that are from Central and South America who owns the coal mines, the rare earth mines, it's no longer the Americans and the Canadians. It's our countries that are unfortunately competing with us head on. If you want a specific point also...
NNAMDINo. You've made -- you've mentioned several, and we don't have that much time. Alice Gast, as I said, people feel these expertise and these collaborations and exchanges goes only one way, that these countries benefit from us and end up costing us more money than for things -- well, whatever. But that's not necessarily the case, is it?
GASTI disagree. I think that of course this nation is built on immigrants, and we've benefited so tremendously from the terrific international students and the students who have come from abroad, stayed here, started companies, Silicon Valley was really built on international energy and expertise, and I think that we owe a lot to the world in sending their best and brightest to be part of our country. Also, when you travel, you mentioned earlier a chemical engineer from USC. I'm a chemical engineer from USC. There's something to be said for...
NNAMDIThough not the president of Egypt (unintelligible) .
GASTNo. I'm all -- I'm the president of Lehigh University. There's something tremendous to be said about alma mater, a sense of the ability to work together and solve problems together and develop programs that send benefits our way, as well as our sending benefits abroad is tremendous, and as soon as you meet someone who came from your alma mater, no matter what decade they came from, there's a lot to be said for that camaraderie and that exchange that has occurred.
GASTI think that we also are benefitting tremendously from working with scientists from different cultural backgrounds. You get a group of physicists together from different countries, and we look at a problem differently. We take it apart differently, we solve it differently, and we learn as we work interculturally if you will, we solve problems that we couldn't have solved by ourselves.
NNAMDIIndeed, you I think mentioned that in Kazakhstan there are things to be studied there that we couldn't possibly study here.
GASTThat's right. And that's where I think that we can -- we benefit from their expertise, and from going and working and working on these problems. Avian influenza certainly spreads around the world. Any disease, ecological problems, and resource issues of water and forests and climate really don't follow boundaries, and when people in some of these more challenged places are working hard to solve these really hard problems, we can learn a lot. We learn about how to bring medical technologies to fruition for lower cost because we do that for developing nations. If we can do it there, we can bring that back here.
NNAMDINorm Neureiter, do you address -- or how do you address the imbalance in terms of the resources that the American scientist often brings to the table in places like, oh, Kazakhstan, North Korea, or Afghanistan?
NEUREITERI'm sorry. I do not agree that this is a completely unbalanced relationship, but you do want to do things which make sense for both sides. If there's a severe imbalance in the relationship, then in the end it falls apart because one side feels cheat or something. So anyway, you have to use some sense when you go into these relationships, and I think these broad generalizations that everybody steals from us, that everybody just takes, and they don't give anything is completely wrong.
NEUREITERIn fact, in many cases, you will find that they are contributing far more to the program than we are. We may have more money, but they're contributing people, they're contributing places to work, they're contributing facilities, they're contributing unique environments which we can't get anywhere else. No. No. These things are extremely valuable. Now, in a broadly political sense, and I said this earlier, you can choose between isolation and cutting everyone off, or you can find ways of trying to work with them, and my experience, and I've been doing this for 50 years, my experience says that you are better off trying to interact with people, finding ways where you do have some agreement that builds a bit of trust, and that has a chance for a longer term future for the world than if you try to isolate, because eventually with isolation there will be conflict.
NNAMDIAnd indeed, Alex Dehgan, you agree that it's a mistake to assume that the exchange goes one way when American scientists work in developing countries.
DEHGANI think it works best when we actually have a mutual exchange, and a mutual benefit, and in fact, the world is increasingly networked and connected, and we cannot actually isolate ourselves anymore, and in fact, we can frequently only hurt ourselves in the long run. If we're looking at, you know, future markets, future opportunities for Americans, they're gonna be in places like the developed world, and they're gonna be because of these technical exchanges we had. Just responding to the caller on one point, you know, those purchases of key resources were made because of influence, but the greatest influence we can have is actually by training generations of leaders in places like Africa who later become the presidents and the prime ministers and ministers of those countries.
DEHGANAnd if we don't do that, we are losing our access and just building on the other point that Alice made, which is a good one. I mean, it is a substantial percentage of companies on Silicon Valley that were founded by foreign borne scientists, and we can't forget that. Our economic security, our national security, actually depends on these types of exchanges.
NNAMDIIndeed, Norm sees education and exchanges as a crucial piece of science diplomacy. We only have about 30 seconds left for you to talk about that.
NEUREITERWell, I agree. I got hooked on this business because I was privileged to have a Fulbright grant to go to Germany in 1955, and I spent a year there in a laboratory working with young people who had been all through World War II, and experienced it from the vantage point as the loser, not the winner. And I just came away from that saying, these issues are so big, I want to spend part of my life trying to build peace in the world and not war.
NNAMDIAnd that's what he's been doing for the past 50 years or so. Norm Neureiter is the senior advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Alice Gast is the president of Lehigh University and U.S. Science Envoy to Central Asia and the caucuses. And Alex Dehgan is the science and technology advisor to the administrator of USAID. Thank you all for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.