Scientists may be deployed from their home institutions (ministries, research centres, universities…) to embassies, or be locally hired in embassies. These professionals have responsibility to liaise on science, research, technology, and innovation issues. Their job titles greatly vary, such as: science counsellors (France), science attachés (US), science advisers or coordinators (Spain), science envoys (also the US), or science wings (India) (Melchor 2020).
The literature on the history and profile of science attachés goes back to the 1950s (Loftness 1955; Forbes 1957). The first US science attaché in Sweden was Robert L. Loftness, who described the role of science attachés in a list of different functions, including building up scientific international collaborations between research teams in both countries (Loftness 1955). William H. Forbes also pointed out science attachés could help the US to ensure its world leadership but, above all, to improve the US moral and ideological image before other countries (Forbes 1957).
Science counsellors or attachés should have scientific legitimacy to better engage with the scientific community, but these roles are sometimes filled by diplomats who require specific scientific training (see 2.4.1. Diplomats). In fact, the US switched to a science attaché model where the diplomat is the one delivering this task. On the other hand, France is the paramount example in appointing active scientists as science counsellors abroad in their Offices of Science and Technology where they also receive science attachés sent from French research institutions and locally-hired expert staff, who are all under the supervision and management of the science counsellor.
However, few renowned scientists can and want to serve full-time as science counsellors/attachés, especially if this implies working with the intelligence community or if it requires foreign language skills. This is why additional professional figures are engaged. Some countries use:
At embassies, these different scientific profiles have the following missions (Ruffini 2017; Melchor 2020):
Below is the testimony of a number of science diplomacy professionals. First, a scientist who moved to international affairs appointed by her government to the French Embassy in Washington DC. After this interview, two advisers working at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or at an embassy will give you a glimpse into the varied role of the science adviser. In the last interview, our expert explains the role of an Italian science attaché in South Africa. There are other science attachés who will give you more information about their role in 3.2.1. Types of science diplomacy stakeholders: Governmental stakeholders and 3.3.2. Types of science diplomacy networks: National networks.
Vice-President for International Relations, Université Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL (PSL) and former Science Counsellor in the Embassy of France in Washington DC
What is your background?
Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)
Can you tell us briefly about your background and your main milestones in your career?
EU Science advice and diplomacy officer, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology FECYT). Former science adviser in the Spanish embassy in London
What was your role at the Embassy of Spain in London?
Coordinator of the Science Diplomacy Programme in The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)
Can you give us a few examples of jobs a science diplomat may have?
Part of the information contained in this topic has been extracted from the following documents:
– Degelsegger-Márquez, Alexander, Tim Flink, and Charlotte Rungius (2018): What it takes to do science diplomacy. Practices, identities, needs and challenges of science diplomacy practitioners. Baseline analysis and needs assessment, Deliverable 2.3, Vienna: S4D4C (Link)
– El-Baz, Farouk (2010): “Science Attachés in Embassies.” Science Vol. 329, Issue 5987, pp. 13. DOI: 10.1126/science.1189621 (Link)
– Flink, Tim, and Ulrich Schreiterer (2010): “Science diplomacy at the intersection of S&T policies and foreign affairs: toward a typology of national approaches.” Science and Public Policy, 37(9), November 2010, pages 665–677. DOI: 10.3152/030234210X12778118264530 (Link)
– Forbes, William H. (1957):” The Role of Science Attachés.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 13(8), 274-276.
– Loftness, Robert L (1995): “Why Science Attachés?” The Scientific Monthly Vol. 80, No. 2 (Feb., 1955), pp. 124-127 (Link)
– Melchor, Lorenzo (2020): “What Is a Science Diplomat?” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 15 (3):409-423 (Link)
– Ruffini, Pierre-Bruno (2017): Science and Diplomacy. A New Dimension of International Relations. Science, Technology and Innovation Studies. Cham: Springer International Publishing (Link)
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