Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Obama should stress more on scientific and educational collaborations

Obama's speech in Jakarta yesterday was meant to continue the dialogue that he started in Cairo last year. Well and good. But science and education, while mentioned in the speech, got a bit less attention this time. Now it is quite possible that actions on the ground are going to speak for themselves. But words are important too - and I think an emphasis on scientific collaborations should be popular both in Indonesia and in Egypt. Here are all the instances where science was mentioned in Obama's speech in Indonesia:

Linking education to development and democracy:
Above all, America has a stake in the success of the Indonesian people.  Underneath the headlines of the day, we must build bridges between our people, because our future security and prosperity is shared.  And that is exactly what we’re doing -- by increasing collaboration among our scientists and researchers, and by working together to foster entrepreneurship.  And I’m especially pleased that we have committed to double the number of American and Indonesian students studying in our respective countries.  (Applause.)  We want more Indonesian students in American schools, and we want more American students to come study in this country.  (Applause.)  We want to forge new ties and greater understanding between young people in this young century.
These are the issues that really matter in our daily lives.  Development, after all, is not simply about growth rates and numbers on a balance sheet.  It’s about whether a child can learn the skills they need to make it in a changing world.  It’s about whether a good idea is allowed to grow into a business, and not suffocated by corruption.  It’s about whether those forces that have transformed the Jakarta I once knew -- technology and trade and the flow of people and goods -- can translate into a better life for all Indonesians, for all human beings, a life marked by dignity and opportunity.
Now, this kind of development is inseparable from the role of democracy.
On scientific collaborations along with entrepreneurship:
To strengthen cooperation in science and technology that fuels growth, we are going to be pursuing joint research in areas like energy and biodiversity conversation.  And we are expanding educational partnerships between our young scientists, engineers and doctors.  And building on the entrepreneurship summit that I hosted in Washington, which was attended by some very talented young Indonesians, I’m pleased that Indonesia will be hosting a regional entrepreneurship conference next year.  
And connecting the thread with the Cairo initiative:
And I would note that many of the partnerships I’ve mentioned are a direct result of my call in Cairo for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities around the world.  And it involves the private sector as well, thanks to efforts like Partners for a New Beginning, which is forging partnerships around science, education and entrepreneurship.
Now all of this is reasonable - but what is lacking is something that is eye-catching. Yes, practical applications linked with business are all well and good, but the prestige and symbolism often lies with pure science and/or with bold initiatives. I think this is where NASA could have played an important role in bringing the cool factor to the collaborations. But due to pressure from Fox News, NASA will probably keep a profile low on this topic (see an earlier post about this here and some of the reaction here). Now it is back to the President to make these science collaborations something more than simply opportunities for business ventures. Perhaps, bring up the wonder and awe of the natural world and the joy of discovery as a universally shared experience.

But I'm glad that science is still an important component of Obama's foreign policy. At least so far.

Related posts:
Obama's Science Initiative in Indonesia
NASA reaching out to the Muslim world
A bill to support scientific research in the Muslim world
Obama's science envoys for the Muslim world
Obama's science outreach to the Muslim world

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