Sunday, March 02, 2008

"US diplomats 'should pay more attention to science'"

David Dickson paid me the honor of consulting me on this story in SciDev.Net ( 29 February 2008) and quoting me in part. The article was occasioned by a recommendations of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy. Their report made a number of good suggestions, including increasing the scientific literacy of diplomats and using information and communications technology to transform the practice of diplomacy.

For many years the State Department recruited generalists for their scientific and technological posts. I recall vividly several decades ago when the Assistant Secretary in charge of the scientific attaches said in an important public meeting that she hoped that her science attaches could read one or two articles in the average Scientific American. In today's world, that simply is not good enough.

I have known some of the science attaches over the years. All those I knew worked hard at their jobs, and some helped me a lot in mine. Some were wonderfully qualified, combining scientific credentials with those of a diplomat and administrator; some were not so qualified.

I understand that with the appointments of the science advisors to the Secretary of State, and their wise policy of enhancing the program of rotation of scientists in State Department posts, the situation has improved. Certainly I have enjoyed contacts with the advisors working on the science programs of UNESCO in the last couple of years!

Still, I think most of the economic officers and many of the officers responsible for counsulary services (who give visas to students, scientists and business people to come to the United States) should have some understanding of science and technology and their increasing importance in the 21st century.

We know that there are phases of development of e-government, culminating in the transformation of organizatons and their way of doing business. The State Department has been notorious for its lagging acceptance of technology, and seems to be stuck in the earliest phase of development of its e-government approaches, simply posting information on the Internet. The lives of diplomats could be improved, the services to the public made more efficient and available, and the reporting and representation services of State made more accurate and timely by the appropriate application of technology.

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