Diplomacy and Communications Committees Forecast the Future of Science Diplomacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized the way scientists work and communicate. In the aftermath of the pandemic, what changes might arise in diplomacy and the role of science in diplomatic relationships?

Eighteen NSPN members have done their best to answer this challenging question. A collaborative project, co-led by NSPN’s Diplomacy and Communications Committees, brought together three teams of early career scientists and engineers to assess the science diplomacy landscape and forecast the future of science in diplomacy after COVID-19. The groups have produced papers that were submitted for a special edition of the journal Science & Diplomacy.

“We’ve seen over and over again a lack of representation of early career researchers in conversations about the future of science, and a lack of representation of youth in general in conversations about the future of the planet, so I’m excited to see our members stepping up to change that narrative,” said Kathy Shield, Chair of the NSPN Diplomacy Committee. “Each of the three papers center the needs of early career researchers, while acknowledging the complexities of doing truly inclusive, high-quality research. I hope this opportunity gives the authors a chance to think differently about the world of research, to work with new collaborators, and to contribute to the conversation about what global science does and can look like.”

The teams wrote their papers in response to a call for submissions to the Science & Diplomacy journal, an outgrowth of the Center for Science Diplomacy within the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The prompt asked writers to consider what information scientists can bring to incorporate science into diplomacy after COVID-19.

NSPN members formed three groups, each giving a different perspective on the future of science diplomacy. One group, led by Lyndsey Gray, wrote a paper describing how colonial practices in science have come to light during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The end result is that inequitable power dynamics are built and passed down among generations of scientists, resulting in the exploitation of Black, Indigenous, and communities of color around the world,” said Gray. “To break this cycle, we argue that early career researchers should be trained on how to engage with communities as equal partners rather than continuing to appropriate their knowledge and resources.”

Another group, led by Shubham Tripathi, wrote a paper on the relationship between science and geo-political conflict. “A post-COVID world is likely to be characterized by an increase in geo-political tensions, particularly between China and the United States,” said Tripathi. “However, it is vital that international scientific collaborations continue in order to restore multilateralism and rebuild the communication and cooperation needed to address future scientific challenges. We describe how the involvement of early career researchers is critical for the future of science diplomacy and propose steps to support such early-stage collaborations.”

The third group, led by NSPN Communications Committee Chair Meredith Schmehl, wrote a paper on the future of scientific conferences as a form of inclusive and accessible communication. “The impact of COVID-19 on accessibility concerns of scientific conferences is complex and multifaceted. There’s no clear solution that solves all the potential problems,” said Annabelle Lolinco, who co-authored the paper and serves as a Co-Chair of NSPN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. “We hope that our paper is able to provide conference organizers a window of what the future of collaboration and connection in science and diplomacy can be.”

The three papers were submitted to Science & Diplomacy for a special edition to be published in December 2020.

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This special issue will be published in December 2020.

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