This weekend, renowned scientists from across the globe will meet at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Dr., for a conference titled ""Emerging and Persistent Infectious Diseases,"" hosted by the UA's new Institute on Science for Global Policy. Daily Wildcat reporter Adam Lehrer spoke with the institute's director, George Atkinson, to discuss the conference and the goals of the institute.
Daily Wildcat: How was the Institute on Science for Global Policy, or ISGP, formed?
George Atkinson: The concept was a product of my experience as the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in the 2003-2007 period. That was how the ideas developed, and since I've been a member of the (University of) Arizona faculty for many years, we opened the institute here in May of this year.
DW: You said you developed the ISGP concept after working as Science and Technology Adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. How did this experience make you decide that there needs to be more opportunity for scientists to directly address policy makers?
GA: In a practical world, we need to improve the degree at which scientists are able to articulate the choices we have to solve some of these great problems like climate change, infectious diseases, energy and so forth. The policy side needs a venue where they can more readily ask questions that are important to them. So, it's quite important in my mind that the traditional way of writing a report in the science community, which often focuses on the science community's arguments, needs to be restructured for the policy group. And, simultaneously, the policy community needs to be patient enough to listen to this information through morals of debate.
DW: What are some of the issues that will be discussed at this conference?
GA: There will be four of them. The most in-depth one will be infectious diseases. We're also discussing new topics like food sustainability, energy and cyber security.
DW: How are these topics going to be developed into programs for ISGP to work on?
GA: The institute has a method of interviewing people around the world first. Based on that interview we put together their opinion in terms of a series of conferences, with about half the people from outside the U.S. and half from inside. Those conferences have a few scientists who we invite to come and debate points of view with selected policy people, and they're selected by the governments involved. The meeting itself is almost all debate, with the leader of the debate coming from the policy side. They ask questions that are important to policy that may not be the questions scientists choose, but hopefully the scientists involved are articulate enough to answer the questions in a way that they can be used for the policy side.
DW: How will the participants and policy-makers from the seven countries be observing the model and how effective could it be?
GA: I work with many of the people in these countries: U.S., Britain, Italy, France,Germany, Singapore and Japan. That to me was a good cross-section of American, Asian and European perspectives.
DW: How were the involved participants selected?
GA: Well, we'll actually be practicing. We as an institute will not be saying very much in the meeting. We've asked various distinguished scientists and policy people that come to the meeting to make the case for us. They'll be speaking on behalf of science and talking about the most recent developments in infectious diseases, and of course talking to the audience and among themselves to show how this model can be useful to them.
DW: How will it be decided if this initial model will become a long-term model?
GA: People will vote with their pocketbooks. Basically, the U.S. government has supported the program so far, and now it's an opportunity for us to have these other governments help support the program. They're here to see it, they're here to experience it and then they'll be discussing how to provide the funding needed to pursue them.
DW: Where has ISGP been receiving its support from?
GA: Primarily from contracts from the U.S. government, and the university has been helping as well.
DW: What is in the future for ISGP?
GA: I wouldn't be doing this unless I was convinced that this was approached globally. We want people to see that this model is a lot more effective than writing a report and having no one read it. This model says if you have common sense, we need to have better communication between scientifically informed people and the policy people who make these big decisions. And I hope that by debating them, it gives people the freedom to ask questions that are important to them.