US: Science important in US relations with world

Science and technology should have a key role in the next US administration's attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of America around the world, says the director of the online Science Development Network, David Dickson.

Writing on the network's website, www.scidev.net, Dickson said it was generally expected Barack Obama would pursue policies likely to fix the nation's currently damaged image. Among those policies, he said, should be efforts to help poor countries improve their science and technology capacities.

"The more the United States becomes identified with such efforts, the less it will be accused of merely pursuing its own commercial and military interests. And the more that such countries generate sustainable economic growth, feed their people and create new jobs, the less they will become breeding grounds for fundamentalist-driven protest," he wrote.

Dickson said the US government already did a lot to promote science and technology in the developing world but resource shortages had limited many of these efforts. For example, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had suffered sharp cuts in its science and technology capacity, particularly in its overseas missions. It was expected that Obama would be more sensitive to the need for effective aid policies than McCain.

"The new administration will not lack suggestions for improvements," Dickson said.

He noted that the national academies of science, medicine and engineering had already argued for a chief scientific adviser with cabinet status, charged with promoting science in foreign policy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has argued for new funding mechanisms to ensure international research partners can receive US government funding, and others have suggested a US$100 million annual research and development fund.

"Hopefully, the new president will seriously consider all such recommendations. There should be little political disagreement on the vital role of science and technology for development policy."