US Policies Concern Scientists Bound for UA Summit
Researchers and diplomats from around the world converging on the University of Arizona for a conference on science diplomacy and policy share concerns about the new administration.

By Jill Goetz and Karina Barrentine, UA College of Engineering
Feb. 7, 2017


NOAA's newest weather satellite took these photos of Earth from 22,300 miles in January.
NOAA's newest weather satellite took these photos of Earth from 22,300 miles in January. (Courtesy of NOAA)

As President Donald Trump orders an immigration ban and vows to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, dozens of eminent scientists and policy experts are planning to convene at the University of Arizona for a conference.

During the Science Diplomacy and Policy With Focus on the Americas conference, to be held Feb. 22-24, participants will work on global initiatives around climate change, water in the Americas and the United Nations' sustainable-development goals.

Many of the speakers and panelists have expressed grave concerns with the Trump administration's recent immigration order and statements giving short shrift to scientific evidence relevant to global policy issues such as climate change. They include a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, former U.N. ambassador, former science advisers to the U.S. secretary of state, and key members of leading scientific organizations and universities.

"We are the recognized world leader in science, technology and innovation, (which) almost every country now sees as crucial for its prosperity, competitiveness and security — they seek to engage with our universities, research labs and high-tech companies," E. William Colglazier, the conference's honorary chairman, wrote in a December 2016 editorial for Science & Diplomacy, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"In the presidential debate transcripts, however, the word 'science' appears only once and 'technology' three times. 'Sustainability' never comes up," Colglazier also wrote.

Peacekeeping at Stake

Colglazier held top positions at the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council before becoming science and technology adviser to former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. As executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences, and with the encouragement of the U.S. department, he was involved in scientific collaboration with Iran for more than one decade.

"Even as relations between the countries grew more difficult, U.S. and Iranian scientists were able to work together on problems in public health, the environment and other areas," Colglazier said in a recent interview.

Conference panelist Norman Neureiter, a former science and technology adviser to four U.S. presidents and the U.S. Department of State's first science and technology adviser in 2000, added: "Collaborators working on problems in science and technology, even from the most unfriendly nations, may come to view the world in a similar way."

Panelists seem concerned that isolationist policies, such as the executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, may tarnish America's science leadership reputation and undermine its position as the choice destination for the world's best and brightest.

Taking in scientists from other countries and supporting their work helped the U.S. become a science superpower, noted Marga Gual Soler, project director for the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, in a recent Washington Post article.

"Science is students and researchers of every level working together in pursuit of a problem," she said. "Science is a discipline that cannot be contained within borders."

Hope for the Future

Nevertheless, many of those scheduled to appear at the conference remain optimistic that in the long run a universal awareness of science's importance and the aspirations of young people will prevail.

"In my three years at the State Department, I worked with more than 70 countries," Colglazier said. "No matter what their level of development, these countries all wanted to know the same thing: how they could create an innovative economy for a prosperous and secure society.

"What has struck me most of all is when I deal with young people — even from vastly different cultures and systems of government — they all want to gain knowledge in science and technology and apply it to build a better world."

Other conference speakers include:

  • Thomas R. Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Israel and Russia 
  • Vaughan Turekian, science and technology adviser to the U.S. secretary of state
  • Peter Agre, Nobel laureate in chemistry and director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University

"This timely conference — where students and practitioners in science and engineering, law and medicine, public health and the social sciences can directly engage in discussions on science and diplomacy with experts from throughout the Western Hemisphere — reflects our commitment to open dialogue and exchange of ideas," said Jeff Goldberg, dean of the UA College of Engineering, which is cosponsoring the conference with the UA Office of Global Initiatives.

Extra info


Science Diplomacy and Policy With Focus on the Americas


Tucson Marriott University Park, 880 E. 2nd St.


Feb. 22-24

A roundtable — free and open to the public — on Feb. 22 from 6:30-8 p.m. will feature Thomas R. Pickering and Peter Agre. Thursday and Friday events also are open to the public but require a registration fee for attendance and meals. Details are available online:

Conference sponsors include the UA College of Engineering, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, Institute of the Environment, Office of Global Initiatives, UA Foundation, and Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.


Resources for the media

Jill Goetz

UA College of Engineering


Frank Camp

UA Office of Global Initiatives