President Trump and his administration’s lead- ers should learn from history and embrace sci- ence advice as critical to U.S. national interests. The nascent administration has yet to identify a science and technology (S&T) adviser to the president, a central figure in fortifying Ameri- can preeminence in science, technology, and innovation. But the president’s science adviser is just one
member of a traditionally robust effort to ensure
that U.S. policies leverage
the nation’s signature S&T
strength. In today’s world,
S&T issues are international in scale and scope.
Given this reality, the
need for science advice
focused globally takes
on greater importance.
This realization, with a
recommendation by the
U.S. National Academies
of Sciences, Engineering,
and Medicine (NASEM) in
1999, led to the creation of
the Science and Technology
Adviser to the Secretary of
State (STAS) in 2000 and
its codification in legislation that same year. Since
then, five such advisers
have worked to better connect and mobilize the vast
resources of the S&T community in service of U.S.
foreign policy and diplomacy. In nearly two decades, the
STAS has worked throughout the Department of State
(DOS) to bring on scores of Ph.D. scientists through numerous fellowship programs. These fellows bring their
connections and expertise to increase the strength and
power of the United States in discussions related to such
critical economic and national security issues as weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity, transnational pollution, bioeconomy, and counterterrorism, to name a few.
In 2016, the STAS, in partnership with NASEM, con-
nected senior DOS leaders with experts in rapidly emerg-
ing fields such as gene editing and artificial intelligence.
These technologies have the potential to upend the eco-
nomic, social, political, and security landscape in ways
unimaginable a decade earlier. The DOS’s competitive
advantage in S&T is not guaranteed. Indeed, delibera-
tions about departmental reorganization (following pro-
posed massive cuts in U.S. diplomacy) have brought great
uncertainties about the existence and stature of the STAS
position. One of the greatest values of the STAS has been
its ability to work innovatively with bureaucracy without
itself being inhibited by it. Talk of consolidating all “spe-
cial” offices within existing structures would undermine
such innovation and nontraditional thinking.
The hiring freeze that
was initiated by the administration upon entry
to office has affected access to scientific talent.
The hiatus in bringing on a
new class of Jefferson Sci-
ence Fellows is evidence.
These tenured professors
are selected by a rigorous
process overseen by the
NASEM and DOS. They
serve as experts for 1-year
terms within DOS offices,
which benefit from having
access to internationally
renowned American scientists and engineers. The
salary and benefits of fellows are covered by their
respective universities. Yet,
nonrenewal and limits on
hiring of experts have reduced access to valuable
scientific and engineering
talent within the DOS.
While Secretary of State
Tillerson and his senior officials evaluate the need for
various DOS positions, including STAS, other countries are recognizing the benefits of linking science to
diplomacy. In 2016, the STAS launched a limited network of four science advisers in foreign ministries. In
less than 2 years, 10 countries have either created the
position or are taking steps in that direction. When
the expanded group of these advisers meets later this
year, it should include the science adviser to the U.S.
secretary of state. For a department whose first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, was an accomplished
agricultural scientist, and whose current secretary is
an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of
Engineering, maintaining S&T leadership is critical.
Empowering science advice
is the former
to the Secretary at
the U.S. Department
of State and is
a senior board
director at the U.S.
10.1126/science.aao6889 *Opinions expressed here are those of V. T. and do not represent NASEM positions.
“The nascent administration has yet
to identify a science and technology
adviser to the president…”
25 AUGUST 2017 • VOL 357 ISSUE 6353 735 SCIENCE sciencemag.org