CPD conference explores science as a language of diplomacy
Posted February 10, 2010
By Lara Levin
At a time in American politics when international peacemaking efforts have received unprecedented attention and priority from the White House, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) at the Annenberg School continues to investigate the role of public diplomacy in these initiatives and the variety of diplomatic tools with which nations can forge relationships.
At a Feb. 5 conference on the USC campus, CPD joined with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), bringing together scientists, scholars, peacemakers and policymakers to discuss the place of scientific diplomacy in the practice of conflict prevention. The conference was created to further academic understanding of science diplomacy as a valuable element in the wider field of public diplomacy. Science diplomacy provides an opportunity for scientists around the world to work together on projects that address humanity's most pressing challenges, including sustainable development, preserving the environment, and fighting disease and hunger to prevent conflict around the world.
“Science diplomacy is an intricate blending of science and the diplomatic process, which can be used as a tool for health, a tool for education, a tool for peace,” said Philip Seib, director of CPD.
Struggling with the challenge of international access — to data, results from experiments, and other scientists — is crucial to progress, Seib noted, and can often only be attained through careful diplomacy.
USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III (pictured, above left) echoed Seib, touting the importance of science diplomacy.
“Like many other important topics in today’s world it tends to be neglected,” said Dean Wilson, adding that the potential for progress and international reach that lies within science is a valuable asset, and development in this field has a purpose “to get closer to the truth scientifically, but also the moral and ethical truth that drive our society.”
Also observing the immense opportunity in the realm of science diplomacy was Sheldon Himelfarb, associate vice president and executive director of the Center of Innovation for Media, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace.
“Rarely have we seen such high profile expressions of hope and support for science,” said Himelfarb, suggesting that science diplomacy could be a prominent tool for easing tensions in the Muslim world. He proposed, however, that efforts in recent years have been much more targeted toward peacemaking than at conflict prevention, and it will require rigorous research and data collection to prove the cost of inaction on the front of scientific diplomacy to ensure its funding and progress.
Herman Winick, assistant director of the Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and professor emeritus at Stanford University, offered a particularly keen insight into the necessity of science diplomacy and its power. Inspired by a quote from Anton Chekhov, Winick offered: “Science is international. There is no such thing as national science, just as there is no national multiplication table. National science is not science--it only works when people exchange ideas. It is fundamentally international in nature, and progress is made when people cooperate.”
Winick said it is only possible, however, with cooperation between governments and a vested interest in progress. An additional obstacle exists domestically as well. While the Obama administration has made clear its faith in the value of science diplomacy and development, moving forward with plans proves to be easier said than done.
“For these kinds of initiatives to be sustained, there needs to be bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill, and it’s proving to be a challenge to generate that kind of bipartisan support,” said Joel Whitaker, senior adviser of the Center of Innovation for Science, Technology and Peacebuilding at the USIP. “For an issue like science diplomacy that, while seen by everyone as a worthy goal, is a top priority for hardly anyone, we need to get better at communicating the value of science diplomacy and connecting that to the things that policy makers care about.”
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Journalism professor K.C. Cole’s blog about the event
Visit CPD’s Science Diplomacy project page