Friday, January 25, 2008

Call for increase in science collborations between US and Iran

The editorial of last week's issue (January 18) of Science openly called for increased cooperation with Iran on scientific matters. It also lists some interesting steps that have already been taken regarding this:
During the past 8 years, the U.S. National Academies have sponsored annual U.S.-Iran scientific workshops in both countries in areas such as limnology, water conservation, science and ethics, and distance education. These workshops and related individual exchanges have shown that cooperation on problems of mutual interest is possible even in very harsh political environments. In some ways, this bridge-building is reminiscent of early U.S. exchanges with the former Soviet Union and China. But more needs to be done to help repair the broken dialogue between the scientific and intellectual communities of the two countries.
But it appears that things have picked up in the last few months. It is hard to imagine that these measures are completely detached from the two governments - even so the scientific communities in both countries can thaw some ice:

The past 3 months have seen a remarkable series of science-related events involving Iran. An October visit by a U.S. scientific delegation concluded with a joint decision to increase the frequency of bilateral workshops and the number of exchange visitors. During that visit, Princeton physicist and Nobel laureate Joseph Taylor delivered a lecture at Sharif University in Tehran that was seen in person and via the Internet by thousands of Iranian faculty members and students. In November, the U.S. Department of State along with the Institute of Medicine and Academy for Educational Development organized a 3-week program for specialists in food-borne diseases from five institutions in Iran, including a joint scientific workshop and visits to U.S. institutions from coast to coast. In December, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Virginia, began planning audio-video teleconferences with an elite high school in Tehran as a first step toward a long-term relationship. A salient new development was the launch of annual U.S.-Iranian seminars on "Science, a Gateway to Understanding." The first was held in Tehran in November and involved scientists, political leaders, philosophers, and theologians to discuss scientific, political, economic, and social topics that affect understanding among nations.

And here is an interesting (but very positive) way to end the editorial:

Many political leaders in Iran associate themselves with science, and many technically trained Americans are active within the foreign policy community. Together, they are an influential group that recognizes that science is based on evidence and not on ideology. They are the ones who must become advocates of cooperative programs. Particularly now, at this time of great tension in the U.S.-Iran relationship, creative initiatives from the scientific communities of both countries deserve the broadest possible encouragement and support.

This is a step in the right direction and its great that AAAS is taking this initiative. I hope other scientific societies will join in too (especially the American Chemical Society after their last boneheaded action against their Iranian members).