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Science  21 Dec 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5858, pp. 1886-1887
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5858.1886

Science & Security In a Time of Tension, Scientists Build Hopeful U.S.-Iran Links

The diplomatic conflict between Iran and the West was growing more intense by the day, and global headlines focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin's trip to Tehran. At the same time, but with far less fanfare, a delegation of U.S. science and engineering leaders was arriving in the Iranian capital on a mission of science diplomacy.

(Left to right) Biologist Michael Clegg, National Academy of Sciences foreign secretary; Norman P. Neureiter, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy; computer scientist Wm. A. Wulf, president emeritus of the National Academy of Engineering; unidentified man; Ayatollah Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, Iranian Institute of Philosophy; and Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili. The group met in Qom, Iran.

[Photo © Glenn Schweitzer]

Among the U.S. visitors was Norman P. Neureiter, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy. He recalls a reception that few would have predicted: When Nobel laureate Joseph H. Taylor of Princeton spoke at Sharif University of Technology, students jammed the hall and treated him like a celebrity. Former President Mohammad Khatami had a cordial visit with the Americans. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to arrange a meeting, but Putin's visit made that impossible. And the Iranian news media covered the tour extensively.

“It was phenomenally favorable, from the first day,” Neureiter said in an interview. “It's amazing how popular Americans are in Iran. Intuitively, you would think it would be just the opposite.”

The October visit offered clear proof that the science communities of the two countries share a reservoir of common interest and good will that could support a more constructive overall relationship, he said. This month's U.S. intelligence conclusion that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is a “remarkable development,” he added, “but there are still many issues of contention between the U.S. and Iran. What we are proposing is greater engagement at the people level despite the political problems.”

An optimistic view came from engineering Professor Abolhassan Vafai, who helped organize the visit as editor-in-chief of the international scientific journal Scientia Iranica and a member of National Academy of Sciences of Iran. “I am pretty sure that in the future this misunderstanding between the governments will be resolved, and two great nations—the U.S. and Iran—should get together to work for the benefit of humanity,” Vafai said. Citing climate change, hunger, and water shortages, he added: “There are so many common challenges for our people.… It is up to us scientists to provide avenues for that work.”

Sharif University, in cooperation with the Iranian Academy of Sciences, hosted the visit from 13 to 22 October. The U.S. delegation was organized by the National Academies and led by Wm. A. Wulf, recently retired president of the National Academy of Engineering.

Despite the tension of recent years, Neureiter's center has maintained contacts with Iran's science community. He visited three cities in Iran in 2004, lecturing at several universities and technology parks. Reza Mansouri, an Iranian physicist and science policy expert, spoke at AAAS's Washington, D.C., headquarters last year. In late November, Neureiter and his wife, Georgine, hosted a dinner for 20 Iranian medical scientists in the U.S. for a visit focused on food-borne diseases under the State Department's International Visitors Program.

Neureiter trained as a research chemist; in the 1960s, during tense years of the Cold War, he became the first U.S. science attaché in Eastern Europe. Later he served in President Richard Nixon's Office of Science and Technology, helping craft scientific elements of historic agreements with the Soviet Union and China. He served as science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State from 2000 to 2003.

Neureiter's experience left him committed to the use of scientific and technological cooperation to build better global relationships. “I would hope that such a course might be fruitful with Iran,” he said.

Though funding is limited, Iran today is pursuing an S&T renaissance. University enrollment is growing. International research publications and joint projects are up. New research centers and technology incubators are opening across the country. The Iranian blueprint for growth emphasizes sustainable, knowledge-based development, and environmental protection. Many scientists and engineers leading the effort were educated in the United States and Europe, and they are eager to restore strong ties to Western colleagues.

Neureiter sees little risk that engagement would allow Iran to obtain sensitive data; the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control regulates programs with Iran, and U.S. scientists would not be cooperating with Iran in sensitive areas. Both he and Vafai stressed the potential benefits for both nations. That sentiment was repeated throughout the visit—not just by members of the U.S. delegation, but by Khatami, Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili, and other Iranian leaders. Iran's vice president for science and technology, Sadegh Vaezzadeh, challenged researchers from both countries to cooperate in preventing the misuse of science.

Neureiter cited several areas of strength for Iranian science: engineering, theoretical physics, chemistry, medicine, and cognitive science. He suggested that collaboration also could focus on earthquake and addiction research.

AAAS officials, including Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian, are exploring other ways to engage with Iran. “The benefits of joint visits are real, but they're also fleeting,” Neureiter said. “So we should work with our Iranian colleagues to find ways to make these relationships sustainable and enduring.”


AAAS Names Science Journalism Winners

An inquiry into mysterious elk deaths in Wyoming, a profile of a largely unknown black chemist who was a pioneer in the synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants, and a skeptical look at the effects of telling children they are smart are among the winners of the 2007 AAAS Science Journalism Awards.

  • Large Newspaper—(Circulation >100,000): Kenneth Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling, Los Angeles Times, for “Altered Oceans,” 30 July to 3 August 2006.

  • Small Newspaper—(Circulation <100,000): Jennifer Frazer, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, for “Getting to the Bottom of Mysterious Elk Deaths,” 26 November and 3 December 2006.

  • Magazine: Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, New York, for “How Not to Talk to Your Kids,” 19 February 2007.

  • Television: Llewellyn Smith and Stephen Lyons, WGBH/NOVA, for “Forgotten Genius,” 6 February 2007.

  • Radio: Keith Seinfeld, KPLU-FM, Seattle/ Tacoma, for “The Electric Brain,” 8 to 11 January 2007.

  • Online: Katie Alvord,, for “Lake Superior Basin Climate Change” series, 3 May; 3 June; and 30 June 2007.

  • Children's Science News: Mona Chiang, Scholastic Science World, for “A Whale of a Mystery,” 15 January 2007.

The judging panel also awarded a special Certificate of Merit for Sina Loeschke, the runner-up in the Children's Science News category, for her 7 February 2007 article on sea slugs in the German science magazine GEOlino.

The awards, established in 1945, are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C. Each category carries a $3000 award. The winners will pick up their plaques at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston in February 2008.

—Earl Lane

Results of the 2007 Election of AAAS Officers

Following are the results of the 2007 election. Terms begin on 19 February 2008.

  • General Offices

    • President-Elect: Peter C. Agre

    • Board of Directors: Nancy Knowlton, Thomas A. Woolsey

    • Committee on Nominations: Diana Hicks, Karen A. Holbrook, Peter H. Raven, Lydia Villa-Komaroff

  • Section on Agriculture, Food, and Renewable Resources

    • Chair-Elect: Daniel Bush

    • Member-at-Large: Sally Mackenzie

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Pamela J. Green, Charles W. Rice

  • Section on Anthropology

    • Chair-Elect: Michael A. Little

    • Member-at-Large: Dennis H. O'Rourke

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: William R. Leonard, Karen R. Rosenberg

  • Section on Astronomy

    • Chair-Elect: Steven V. W. Beckwith

    • Member-at-Large: Nancy D. Morrison

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Lynn R. Cominsky, William S. Smith Jr.

  • Section on Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Sciences

    • Chair-Elect: Margaret Leinen

    • Member-at-Large: Eugenia Kalnay

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Syukuro Manabe, Terry Whitledge

    • Council Delegate: Claire L. Parkinson

  • Section on Biological Sciences

    • Chair-Elect: Barbara L. Illman

    • Member-at-Large: Diana G. Myles

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Michael W. Nachman, Baldomero “Toto” Olivera

  • Section on Chemistry

    • Chair-Elect: Geraldine Richmond

    • Member-at-Large: Peter B. Armentrout

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Alison Butler, Mark A. Ratner

  • Section on Dentistry and Oral Health Sciences

    • Chair-Elect: Huw F. Thomas

    • Member-at-Large: Susan W. Herring

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Mark W. Lingen, Janet Moradian-Oldak

    • Council Delegate: Jacques E. Nör

  • Section on Education

    • Chair-Elect: Judith A. Dilts

    • Member-at-Large: Robert Tinker

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Judy Diamond, Susan H. Hixson

    • Council Delegate: Rodger W. Bybee

  • Section on Engineering

    • Chair-Elect: Robert M. Nerem

    • Member-at-Large: Cristina H. Amon

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Kristi S. Anseth, Cindy Atman

  • Section on General Interest in Science and Engineering

    • Chair-Elect: Charles N. Haas

    • Member-at-Large: Erika C. Shugart

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Joann Ellison Rodgers, John L. Safko Sr.

    • Council Delegate: Julie Ann Miller

  • Section on Geology and Geography

    • Chair-Elect: Susan Trumbore

    • Member-at-Large: Jill S. Baron

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Kam-biu Liu, Ellen Mosley-Thompson

  • Section on History and Philosophy of Science

    • Chair-Elect: Alan J. Rocke

    • Member-at-Large: Paul Lawrence Farber

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Rachelle D. Hollander, Phillip R. Sloan

  • Section on Industrial Science and Technology

    • Chair-Elect: S. Tom Picraux

    • Member-at-Large: Ray H. Baughman

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Tingye Li, Robert W. Sprague

  • Section on Information, Computing, and Communication

    • Chair-Elect: Edward D. Lazowska

    • Member-at-Large: Benjamin Kuipers

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: James D. Foley, Clifford A. Lynch

    • Council Delegate: Lewis M. Branscomb

  • Section on Linguistics and Language Science

    • Chair-Elect: Annie Zaenen

    • Member-at-Large: Mark Aronoff

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Joan Maling, Sally McConnell-Ginet

    • Council Delegate: Keren Rice

  • Section on Mathematics

    • Chair-Elect: Keith Devlin

    • Member-at-Large: Warren Page

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Harold P. Boas, Deborah F. Lockhart

  • Section on Medical Sciences

    • Chair-Elect: Christine A. Biron

    • Member-at-Large: R. Arlene H. Sharpe

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Harry B. Greenberg, Margaret K. Hostetter

  • Section on Neuroscience

    • Chair-Elect: Mahlon R. DeLong

    • Member-at-Large: Hollis T. Cline

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Rosemarie Booze, Charles D. Gilbert

  • Section on Pharmaceutical Sciences

    • Chair-Elect: William E. Evans

    • Member-at-Large: C. Anthony Hunt

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: F. Douglas Boudinot, Günter Hochhaus

    • Council Delegate: Patrick J. Sinko

  • Section on Physics

    • Chair-Elect: Bill R. Appleton

    • Member-at-Large: Gene D. Sprouse

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Robert P. Redwine, Antoinette (Toni) Taylor

  • Section on Psychology

    • Chair-Elect: Edward Taub

    • Member-at-Large: Susan Goldin-Meadow

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Jeffrey R. Alberts, Jeri S. Janowsky

  • Section on Social, Economic, and Political Sciences

    • Chair-Elect: Karen S. Cook

    • Member-at-Large: Judith M. Tanur

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Henry E. Brady, Nancy M. Gordon

  • Section on Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering

    • Chair-Elect: Dan Kammen

    • Member-at-Large: Kerri-Ann Jones

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Thomas Dietz, Michele Garfinkel

    • Council Delegate: Robert Cook-Deegan

  • Section on Statistics

    • Chair-Elect: W. Michael O'Fallon

    • Member-at-Large: Randall K. Spoeri

    • Electorate Nominating Committee: Joseph L. Gastwirth, Fritz Scheuren

    • Council Delegate: David L. DeMets

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