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Science  27 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6191, pp. 1462-1463
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6191.1462

27 June 2014

Edited by Kathy Wren

New effort seats scientists at the policy table in Southeast Asia

Inspired by a AAAS program, a pilot project aims to inject more science and technology into the region's policy-making

Evacuating after Typhoon Haiyan.

Scientists in a new fellowships program will analyze policy issues such as whether Vietnam's early warning system can be improved.


Every year, the tropical monsoon region surrounding Vietnam generates about 27 to 28 tropical storms, according to Nga Thi Thanh Pham, a scientist with expertise in meteorology and weather forecasting who is spending a year at Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology. A handful of those storms inevitably make landfall in Vietnam, where a long coastline, mountainous terrain, and many rivers can exacerbate their impacts, with deadly results. Between 1980 and 2010, natural disasters-mostly storms and floods-killed 16,099 people in the country, according to PreventionWeb, a disaster-risk reduction Web site.

Preparation is critical for minimizing this toll. In her new position with the government, Nga will assess the effectiveness of the country's early warning system, which relies on the Voice of Vietnam and Vietnam Television to help the public prepare for natural disasters. She will study how updates to a disaster-prevention law, implemented this year, are being carried out at the regional and district levels, and she will review lessons learned in other regions.

"This type of work is so important in Vietnam," she said. "Their living heavily depends on the natural environment and agriculture. Saving more lives and promoting economic development depends on being able to better prepare for natural disasters. I do hope that my knowledge will prove useful in supporting storm-related disaster prevention."

Nga is a member of the inaugural class of ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows, a pilot project inspired by the 40-year old Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program at AAAS. The new project aims to increase the use of science, technology, and objective analysis in the political decisionmaking process in five Southeast Asian nations: Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The initiative, announced by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has tasked eight scientists and engineers to work for 1 year on policy matters related to biodiversity, climate change, reducing disaster risks, health, and water management. The program, which is the first multi-nation effort to use the AAAS policy-fellows model, is managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the United States Mission to ASEAN.

Other fellows include Anh Tung Pham, also in Vietnam, who will provide analysis to support policy-making decisions related to helping cities adapt to climate change. In the Philippines, fellow Maria Ruth B. Pineda will help set up a governance structure for the ASEAN-Network for Drugs, Diagnostics, Vaccines, and Traditional Medicines Innovation, an information-sharing initiative. In Indonesia, fellow Dyah Marganingrum will develop recommendations for improving water resource management. Other fellows in Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand will work on a variety of issues related to biodiversity and climate change.

"In any country, science, technology, and innovation can be an essential piece of the development process," said AAAS science diplomat Norman Neureiter, senior advisor to the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. "This experiment in Southeast Asia, based on the AAAS model, will provide invaluable information on how best to leverage science to enhance regional development and promote scientific cooperation."

In April, Neureiter and Cynthia Robinson, director of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships, participated in a 4-day orientation event in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the first class of ASEAN fellows. Robinson conducted a session to help fellows maximize their opportunities and accomplishments, and she moderated sessions on strategies to leverage science in support of policy-making. Over the years, she said, colleagues in Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland have expressed interest in the AAAS policy fellowships. A successful program with an environmentalpolicy focus was launched in Israel 4 years ago. In the United States, California and Massachusetts have programs in place that used the AAAS experience as a guide. "We're particularly excited about the effort in Southeast Asia because it's regional," Robinson said. "We hope that it will become a successful model for helping to inform policy in places where multiple countries face the same science-based problems."

At the Jakarta orientation event for the ASEAN fellows, Neureiter's presentation focused on the value of international science diplomacy as a mechanism for improving cross-border relations based on shared goals for advancing science. One of the first such examples of U.S science diplomacy took place in 1961, when Japanese Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda and U.S. President John F. Kennedy, at the urging of Edwin Reischauer, then the U.S. ambassador to Japan, announced the creation of three U.S.-Japan joint committees, including one on scientific cooperation. In 1972, Neureiter noted, President Richard M. Nixon also leveraged science diplomacy to help normalize relations with Russia.

"Science can be an important element of foreign policy," Neureiter said. "Taking advantage of that through programs such as this new ASEAN fellowship initiative can improve cooperation between countries and, we hope, result in better outcomes for their research."

The initiative was proposed by Montira Pongsiri, who was then the Science Advisor to the U.S. Mission to ASEAN and previously a mentor to AAAS S&T Policy Fellows at the Environmental Protection Agency, in collaboration with alumna AAAS policy fellow Teresa Leonardo, the Regional Science and Technology Advisor at the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia.

Mass Media Fellows celebrate 40 years

Swapping stories.

Alumni reminisced about their internships at a 2 June gathering at AAAS.


Forty years ago, AAAS sent its first class of science-savvy students into the newsroom to learn first-hand about writing and reporting from working journalists. For some alumni, their summer as a AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellow was a life-changing experience.

"Without this fellowship, I swear I'd be selling aluminum siding somewhere in New Jersey," said Steve Mirsky, columnist and podcast editor for Scientific American. Mirsky was working fitfully toward his doctorate in chemistry when he went to work in 1985 as a fellow at WSVN-TV in Miami. He used that experience to get a job at a radio station in Syracuse, New York, where he developed broadcast skills that he now uses for his lively podcasts.

The fellows program has welcomed 620 participants since 1974, and many of them have gone on to distinguished careers in journalism and science communication. Those who have remained in the science professions have used their media skills to better communicate their work to colleagues and the wider public.

Dione Rossiter, the program's project director, has been conducting a survey of alumni to learn more about the fellowship's long-term impacts. Preliminary results show that 76% of the respondents said that the program was "extremely" or "very" important to their success, and 37% said that it completely changed the course of their career.

This summer also marks the 10th anniversary of the Minority Science Writers Internship program for undergraduates at Science magazine. Natalie Villacorta, a 2011 intern at the magazine, said that the program allowed her to answer an inner voice that said "tell stories." She is now a health care reporter for Politico, an online news site.

New dues rates approved for 2015

The AAAS Board of Directors has approved a dues increase for 2015. The new rates are ef ective for membership terms beginning after 31 December 2014 and do not include postage or taxes for international members, which is additional. For more information, contact the AAAS Membership Office at 202-326-6417.

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