Science Speaks, Diplomatically; Experts Bring Ideas to U.S. Policy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

Science Speaks, Diplomatically; Experts Bring Ideas to U.S. Policy


Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

People often speak about the science of diplomacy, but few people know about scientists at the U.S. Department of State whose job, in part, is making diplomats aware of the contributions science can make to their craft.

Thanks to groups such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its Science & Technology Fellowship program, more than two dozen men and women with advanced science or medical degrees are staffing various State Department bureaus and offices for periods of one or two years. Outsiders in an insiders' world, fellows in this 26-year-old program are short-term employees on a steep learning curve who bring the benefits of their specialized training to what, by and large, is a generalists' domain.

They write briefing and background papers, often on deadline; organize and lead conferences; and work with other scientists here and abroad. In return, they get a crash course in public policy-making while helping implement foreign policy in ways that don't always make headlines.

Andrew Reynolds, deputy adviser in the department's Office of the Science & Technology Adviser, calls scientists' presence "an infusion of fresh blood." Sage Russell, an AAAS program administrator, suggests that the fellows' contribution stems from "habits of mind - their different ways of doing research and collecting information."

Karl Galle, 37, a second-year fellow who took a lot of hard-science courses as an undergraduate and holds a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science, had never quite resolved whether to go into biomedical research or international affairs. His previous job was working for the National Academy of Sciences. Of his future, he says, "I became interested in public service, and I'm still interested in public service." While in the State Department's Office of Afghanistan Affairs, he was a go-between for a program lending other government agency scientists to embassies abroad and also dealt with counternarcotics, border management and police training matters. In his present post as bio-chem engagement officer in the Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction, he works with scientists and scientific institutes associated with former Soviet weapons programs to make the transition to "peaceful, sustainable work," he says.

Most recently, he was in Kyrgyzstan talking about biosafety measures at a regional disease surveillance conference and visited labs there and in Tajikistan "to discuss concerns about infectious diseases." "You have to learn by doing," Mr. Galle says - and often "doing" means taking the initiative to break down the doors of orthodox thinking - diplomatically, of course.

Tanuja Rastogi, 35, is an experienced epidemiologist in the Office of Agricultural, Biotechnology and Textile Trade Affairs, part of State's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. "I could have gone into pure science, but I liked the fact public health is so disciplinary in nature," she says, reflecting on her time in India doing fieldwork for her doctorate.

Her project involved population-based research and setting up collaborative ventures with urban hospitals. "What is the point of research if it doesn't help anyone?" she asks rhetorically.

She later worked at the World Health Organization and did a postdoctoral degree at the National Institutes of Health but wanted more policy training, being, she admits, "fascinated with globalization." Her studies now turn on health matters in relation to trade policy. "Some of our policies are clearly based on scientific data, and we often rely on interagency partners, but it can be useful to have someone to summarize data without scientific jargon," she says, adding: "It's been very enlightening to see how important is communication. …

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