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Winter/Spring 2010 Vol. 10 Number 1



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BRIEF TAKES


NAS, IOM Members to Serve as Science Envoys to Muslim World

In November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named former NAS President Bruce Alberts, former NIH Director and IOM member Elias Zerhouni, and Nobel prize-winning chemist and NAS member Ahmed Zewail as the first three U.S. Science and Technology Envoys and announced that the State Department will expand positions for environment, science, technology, and health officers at U.S. embassies.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Sixth Forum for the Future in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Nov. 3, 2009, State Department photo"We want to help Muslim-majority communities develop the capacity to meet economic, social and ecological challenges through science, technology, and innovation," Clinton said.

The U.S. Science Envoy program is part of President Barack Obama's "New Beginning" initiative with Muslim communities around the world that he launched last June in Cairo, Egypt. He pledged that the United States would "appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops."

The envoys will travel to countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia, where they shall engage their counterparts, deepen partnerships in all areas of science, technology, and health, and foster meaningful collaboration to meet major challenges facing the world today. Additional U.S. scientists, engineers, and health professionals will be invited to join the Science Envoy program to expand it to other Muslim-majority countries and regions of the globe.

The envoys will be supported by new embassy officers who will also engage with international partners on a full range of environmental, scientific, and health issues, from climate change and the protection of oceans and wildlife to cooperation on satellites and global positioning systems.

"The most exciting part of this new challenge to me is the chance to demonstrate what a science envoy program can do," said Bruce Alberts. "As the first envoys, we have an opportunity to make this experiment so successful that the U.S. government decides to recruit envoys for every major nation of the world, not just the Muslim-majority ones. Over the long run, the many new relationships we help U.S. scientists form with their counterparts abroad will contribute to a more rational and peaceful world," he said. — Valerie Chase


InterAcademy Council to Review IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose exhaustive assessments of climate change science are seen as a basis for governments to move toward agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has been criticized in recent months after errors were discovered in its fourth assessment, issued in 2007. Those errors fueled a firestorm that was already burning in the media over hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.

Robbert Dijkgraaf (left), president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right), on March 10, 2010, United Nations photoIn response to the situation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri requested an independent review of IPCC processes and procedures by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of many of the world's science academies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. "We need to ensure full transparency, accuracy, and objectivity, and minimize the potential for any errors going forward," Ban said in explaining his decision to initiate the review.

Ban announced the review to reporters at the U.N. on March 10. He was accompanied by Pauchari, who added, "We expect that this review will help us in strengthening the entire process by which we carry out preparation of our reports."

At a separate U.N. press conference, Robbert Dijkgraaf, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the IAC, noted that the council was established in 2000 to carry out these types of reviews for the U.N. and other international organizations. He emphasized that the review would be conducted completely independently of the U.N. and IPCC, with "no preconceived conclusions." Dijkraaf said that among the issues IAC had been asked to address is how the IPCC assures the quality of data in its assessments, whether literature that is not peer-reviewed could be cited, and how errors discovered later on are handled. The IPCC's management structure and capacity for effectively communicating its findings will also be examined.

The "Independent Evaluation Group" appointed by IAC to carry out the review has been asked to deliver its report to the U.N. by August 31, in advance of an IPCC meeting on its fifth assessment, which is currently under way. The review will be funded by the United Nations Environment Programme. The IAC can be found on the Web at <www.interacademycouncil.net>. — Bill Kearney


NAS Hosts Premiere and Discussion with 'Whiz Kids'

"America's future rests on the shoulders of the next generation." That message resonated during the D.C. premiere of the film "Whiz Kids" held at the Academy in December.

Harmain Khan and Ana Cisneros, former competitors in the Intel Science Talent Search and two of the subjects of “Whiz Kids,” photo courtesy Society for Science and the Public"Whiz Kids" is a coming-of-age documentary that tells the story of three passionate 17-year-old scientists who vie to compete in the nation's oldest, most prestigious science competition, the Intel Science Talent Search. Each year 40 finalists come to Washington, D.C., to find out who has won up to $630,000 in awards, and share their original research with professional scientists and the public in the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences.

After the film, Bob Edwards, host of "The Bob Edwards Show" on Sirius/XM Radio and Public Radio International, moderated a lively discussion with the whiz kids themselves and film director Tom Shepard. Shepard was a finalist in the same science competition in 1987. He shared his experience from then and compared it to now and found several traits that were consistent among the kids -- "an insatiable curiosity, a deeply felt determination to communicate their work to the public, and a passion to make a difference in the world." He added that "kids today are more interdisciplinary." The panelists noted the important role that informal science learning played in their lives.

'Whiz Kids' is slated to air in fall 2010 on PBS. — Maureen O'Leary



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