State Department Official Addresses PCAST
Loy discussed the role of science and technology within the department, and its response to the recent NRC report (see FYI #148) on this subject. While the end of the Cold War permitted the State Department to broaden its horizons, Loy said, the globalization of trade, finance and information is causing "things that used to be outside of our obligation [to] now fall within it.... What happens in another country is suddenly beginning to concern us," he added. "At the same time...unfortunately the department has taken some internal steps" that gave some in the science community the impression that "we're abandoning science and failed to understand its importance." But that conception, he said, "is wrong.... People in the Department are not dumb; we fully comprehend that we can't solve" certain problems without scientific input.
The department's pattern of whom to recruit, promote, and reward also "needs to be reexamined," Loy acknowledged. He said the department "is committed to having a response [to the NRC report] for the Secretary to consider" by January. He listed several actions the department is already taking. It will establish a senior advisor to the Secretary on science and, when hiring people into the Foreign Service, give greater credit to a scientific background. While the department's current science advisory committee deals only with nuclear nonproliferation and military issues, Loy said there would be consideration given to making a similar service available to the rest of State. The department also plans to hold periodic roundtables to get external scientific input on specific issues. He said a recent roundtable (organized jointly by the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science) on the science of genetically-modified agricultural products "couldn't have been more helpful."
"Resources are absolutely central to the whole problem," Loy said. (The State Department received an FY 2000 appropriation of $6.3 billion, which was $3.9 billion, or 38 percent, less than requested.) He urged the members of PCAST and the science community, "when the opportunity arises," to make this point to Members of Congress. "It's absolutely clear to us," he noted, that the department will "never have the depth of [S&T] competence" to handle all scientific issues, and must reach out to other agencies and institutions. The Diplomacy Fellows sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science "constitute a distressingly large part of our scientific competence," he stated.
Another subject Loy stressed was the importance of building "a capacity for scientific understanding" in developing countries. Using the issue of global climate change as an example, Loy said it could not be addressed internationally without the scientific basis provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He called the IPCC "the world's largest peer review group," and said it "permits us to start, more or less, with agreement on where we stand."
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics