photo 2

Royal Society delegation in Auckland, 2014

This was one of the questions raised at today’s meeting on Science and Diplomacy, the first of a number being held in advance of the International Council for Science (ICSU) General Assembly next week.

Speakers covered three main areas: the role of science in pure diplomacy; science and economic trade; and science and aid, building on messages in The Royal Society/AAAS report on Science and Diplomacy. A key theme running through the whole discussion was that science is at its best when it is an international endeavour, with a collective approach to issues of global importance.

Historically, science has been used as a means of maintaining contact between countries in conflict. Davy was awarded a medal by the Académie des Sciences in France during the Napoleonic wars. (More info here) Such contact is as important today as it was then.

Other messages included the need to move from an opportunistic to a more strategic approach to science diplomacy; the importance of partnership and of building capacity; and the role of science in UN-governed spaces such as the deep oceans, space, cyberspace and Antarctica.

Anne Glover raised a thought-provoking question about washing eggs. The US produces dirty chicken eggs, and washes them; Europe produces clean chicken eggs, and won’t wash them. Both scenarios carry inherent risks yet are based on scientific evidence. This generated a lively debate as to what extent science should/could determine egg washing policy! Still un oeuf already.

But whilst science has an important role to play in distinguishing between legitimate and protectionist trade barriers, it is the politics that usually override the science.

The quality of the debate was testament to the interest of the participants in science diplomacy; for more comments on the talks see the conference website.