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Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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U.S. to get Science-Savvy Diplomacy
15 May 2000 7:00 pm
WASHINGTON, D.C.--It's official: The State Department is looking for some science-savvy diplomats. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today announced that her agency will boost its technical expertise by hiring a top-level science advisor and placing a greater emphasis on science. The pledge is drawing cautious applause from researchers, who have been pushing the U.S. government to improve the quality of the scientific advice available to foreign policy-makers.
Some scientists have worried that diplomats lack the right stuff for coping with high-profile issues ranging from genetically modified foods to global climate change. In 1998, Albright asked a National Academy of Sciences panel to take a close look at her agency's scientific expertise. Last October, the panel's report concluded that science-based controversies were moving "to the forefront of the international diplomatic agenda" just as the State Department was losing technically trained staff (ScienceNOW, 12 October 1999). The total number of full-time science counselors at all embassies, for instance, slipped from 22 in the 1980s to about 10 today. To reverse the trend, the panel--chaired by Harvard policy specialist Robert Frosch--proposed a dozen changes, from appointing a new science advisor to rewriting training manuals for new diplomats.
The recommendations appear to have had an impact. Noting that "good science is vital to good diplomacy," Albright today announced that, in addition to appointing a science advisor, she will recreate a focused science directorate within the agency and establish a new science policy group composed of senior officials. She has also ordered a survey, due to be completed by September, that will identify embassies in need of scientific staff. But she cautioned that change will take years. "What I envision is not a one-shot quick fix," she said in a statement today. "It doesn't take a physicist to know that change is harder than inertia."
Longtime advocates are hoping for the best, noting that nearly a dozen studies over the last decade have urged the State Department to spruce up its technical know-how. "I like what I'm hearing, but I'm concerned that we've heard these things before," says retired Admiral James Watkins, president of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education in Washington, D.C. To make a difference, Watkins says Albright's reforms must be continued by the next administration, while Congress should keep close tabs, "so that we can be sure the rhetoric is turned into reality."