Projecting soft power through science

Scientific diplomacy has never been more important as a way of projecting “soft power”, Britain’s Royal Society said in a thoughtful report released today.

New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy was launched at the first event of the society’s 350th anniversary year – a gathering of 100 of the world’s scientific academies at its headquarters in London.

The report, drawn up at a joint meeting with the American Association for the Advancement of Science last year, points out that scientific diplomacy has a long and successful history. Throughout the Cold War, for example, scientific organisations were an important conduit for informal discussion of nuclear and other issues between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Today science offers a particular opportunity for increasing contact with the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.

It also offers a route to governance of international spaces beyond national jurisdictions – including Antarctica, the high seas, the deep sea and outer space – which cannot be managed through conventional models of diplomacy.

David Milliband, UK Foreign Secretary, endorsed the idea at today’s meeting: “The scientific world is becoming interdisciplinary,” he said. “But the biggest interdisciplinary leap we need is across the boundaries of politics and science. On resource conflicts, global inequality, nuclear security and counter terrorism, science is our ally.”

However we must bear in mind this cautionary note in the Royal Society report: “It is important that scientific and diplomatic goals remain clearly defined, to avoid the undue politicisation of science.”

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.

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