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Prof. Billauer outlines relationship between science and statecraft

On August 20, 2014, IWP Research Professor Barbara Billauer gave a wide-ranging lecture that discussed many of the points of contact and friction between scientists and policymakers.

She noted that the United States government is institutionally less well-equipped to make sound decisions on scientific matters because of the lack of a high-level coordinating body akin to the Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment (which closed in 1995). This contrasts unfavorably, she said, with the approaches followed by numerous other states, which frequently have cabinet-level departments or other organizations dedicated to science and technology. Prof. Billauer offered numerous examples of how Israel has concentrated strategically on improving its scientific standing (with important diplomatic, economic, and military advantages as a result) through prioritizing nanotechnology, encouraging scientists to immigrate to Israel, scientific education and outreach, and collaborating with the United Kingdom.

In the second half of her lecture, Prof. Billauer outlined what she called “tools of scientific statecraft” and showed through historical examples how science and scientists may influence international affairs and national power. She used the example of Benjamin Franklin, who, thanks to his international scientific stature, was able to boost opinions of the emerging United States. Another figure discussed by Prof. Billauer was Chaim Weizmann, who, prior to becoming the president of Israel, performed invaluable scientific work related to explosives for the British government in 1915 and assisted in the formulation of the Balfour Declaration.

Following her remarks, Prof. Billauer and the audience engaged in a spirited dialogue over a variety of topics at the nexus of science and statecraft, including cultural understandings of bioterrorism and the role of ideology and skepticism within science.