Letter from the Editor

bridges vol. 17, April 2008 / Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

The goal of successful communication is the exchange of information between sender and receiver. With all the options of information exchange currently available - be it old-fashioned human face-to-face talk, the ubiquitous (cell)phone conversation, or new media blogging and e-mailing - technological progress has made communication richer in possibilities but has increased the risk of potential misunderstandings. As George Bernard Shaw stated at the beginning of the last century: "The problem with communication ... is the illusion that it has been accomplished." An understanding of how human communication works is important for our daily lives and also for the scientific community.

In Austria, a so-called Forschungsdialog (Research Dialogue) is currently being held between the Austrian Ministry for Science and Research and the Austrian academic and scientific community. The ministry has launched this dialogue between major stakeholders in Austria to redefine Austria's research policy for the next decade. As one facet of this initiative, it has commissioned a study on how reforming the organization of Austria's universities can foster the quality of scientific research - reminding scientists "by providing your input, you will help changing Austria's universities and create better conditions for your fellow scientists in all disciplines."  The results of the Forschungsdialog are anticipated with great curiosity and will be presented during the Alpbach Technology Forum 2008 this coming August. In an in-depth interview with bridges, Austrian Science Minister Johannes Hahn talked about the Forschungsdialog and his vision for Austrian science and research as Austria strives to become a knowledge-based society.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} For the scientific community, reaching out to other communities is just as important as providing input. This means communicating with the general public, policy makers, and industry. Mutual understanding and productive partnerships can best be established by human interaction and positive experiences. An outstanding example of how much a single person can achieve is Norm Neureiter: For more than 40 years, his life has been one of tireless advocacy for science and science diplomacy.  His roles have included a position as science attaché in Europe and the former East Bloc, a top-level executive at Texas Instruments, and the first scientific advisor to the US Secretary of State. Today, he heads AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy and continues to reach out to the scientific and diplomatic communities of the world to strengthen ties and mutual understanding through scientific cooperation; this spring, he received the National Academy of Science Public Welfare Medal, which honors the “extraordinary use of science for public good”. In his guest commentary for bridges, Dr. Neureiter elaborates on the soft power of science diplomacy and how governments can foster this important tool in international affairs.

Unfortunately, communication between scientific communities and their respective national governments doesn't always run smoothly. Science's search for truth, and the results of this quest, are sometimes at odds with policy positions. For instance, look at how much control the White House has exerted during recent years over public statements by federal scientists on climate change issues. According to a recently released report following 16 months investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: "...by controlling which government scientists could respond to media inquiries, [the White House] suppressed dissemination of scientific views that could conflict with Administration policies. The White House also edited congressional testimony regarding the science of climate change."

This week, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a report that presents similar findings: At the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 783 EPA scientists (51 percent of all respondents) in a study commissioned by UCS and conducted by Iowa State University's Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, said EPA policies do not let them speak freely to the news media about their findings.

Both examples above speak for a seriously "poor connection" between the US scientific community and the current administration.  It remains to be seen if and how quickly communication will improve after the fall elections...

bridges has been working on fostering transatlantic S&T policy dialogue for four years now, and we will surely continue to do so.  But while exchange of information between sender and receiver is the goal of successful communication, another essential part of communication is feedback that lets the sender know whether a message was received. We hope you will find some interesting articles in this spring issue - let us know!  We would be pleased to receive your feedback on bridges.

With best regards,
Caroline Adenberger

Further reading:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: Committee Report: White House Engaged in Systematic Effort to Manipulate Climate Change Science