This week I’ve been at the Royal Society’s international meeting on science diplomacy.
What is science diplomacy? Most people here seem to have been discussing it as international collaborations to solve global problems and do joint research, but some have asked during the day whether this habit of cooperation can contribute to better relations between governments.
On Monday (I’ll blog this in two parts), we had perspectives from Europe, Brazil, India, Japan, China and the Islamic world. Some nice stories emerged. Raghunath Mashelkar reminisced about a collaborative agreement signed between India and Pakistan HEI scientists at a time of heightened tensions. Luis Davidovich from the Brazilian Academy of Science told the tale of how the Brazilian Physical Society and the Argentinian Physics Society scuppered any real hope of a nuclear arms race between the two countries by signing a declaration of scientific openness. Less convincingly, James Smith, the Chair of Shell UK, played the big-corporation-contributes-to-solutions-to-climate-change card, but at least didn’t pretend Shell is investing in renewables. I felt Smith got off extremely lightly, deflecting most questions by saying Shell has to answer to its shareholders, the government should “cause them to compete”, and we should all be looking at carbon absorption.
In an absorbing session on new partnerships with Islamic countries, Naser Faruqui from the Canadian International Development Research Centre asked whether, in cases when arguments incorporating religious perspectives can carry the day, why not use them when discussing issues of science with imams? He cited the value of incorporate Islam perspectives in discussions about water management and breastfeeding. Razley Mohd Nordon, from the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference), introduced the term ‘neo-functionalism’, by which he means the impact of cooperation in ‘low politics’ (economic, social and cultural) on ‘high politics’, i.e. relations between governments, and ultimately to a more peaceful world.