Scientific diplomacy: new idea but the same old political agenda

Rhona MacDonald, Freelance editor, (rhonamacdonald@gmail.com)

We have all heard of political diplomacy and thanks to a recent series in PLoS Medicine,  now know more about health diplomacy . But have we even heard of the new kid on the diplomatic block– science diplomacy? According to an opinion piece by Naiyyum Choudhury published on the science and development network (http://www.scidev.net/) the idea of science diplomacy is fast gaining ground as an effective tool for building ties between developed and developing countries and forging closer working relationships. Seemingly “Science diplomacy can open the door for collaborative action to mitigate the effects of poverty and lead to greater global stability.” Perhaps it can. But the key point to be aware of is that diplomatic efforts are driven by national self-interests in order to fulfil political objectives. So under the cloak of scientific diplomacy, many countries, particularly the USA, are looking to build on scientific relationships to reduce negative perceptions and achieve broader political objectives.

Given the enthusiasm with which the diplomacy agendas seem to have been embraced, this situation may be inevitable. But does that make it morally acceptable? Like health research and innovation, scientific innovation should meet public needs not political agendas. Otherwise, the needs of those populations will continue to be neglected.

Diplomacy. of whatever kind, may oil the wheels of the world to make things run more smoothly. But sometimes, the road to progress in improving global health and alleviating global poverty has to be bumpy in order to tackle the key issues, such as social injustice, head on.

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