Keynote Remarks at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

Vaughan Turekian
Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary 
Washington, DC
December 15, 2015


Thank you Minister Ackerman and your Embassy colleagues for organizing this evening’s discussion. I am so pleased that the German Embassy has used the occasion of its G7 presiding to host this discussion on science diplomacy.

At the outset of the 21st Century, we are the lucky beneficiaries of the rapid advances in science and technology that have occurred over the past two centuries. These S&T breakthroughs radically transformed the human experience and led to significant gains in health and prosperity. For example, so-called “gene-editing” technologies are providing the ability to manipulate the human genome with unprecedented precision which could lead to breakthrough cures or even enhancement of desirable traits but also cause unintended health or safety risks.

The benefits of science, technology, and innovation have increased human lifespans but resulted in novel kinds of risks and challenges to security, stability, and the environment.

Thus, the future depends on our ability to promote science and technology in a way that maximizes benefits, minimizes risk, and facilitates the development of new tools, methods, and approaches to address the major global challenges of tomorrow.

There is widespread recognition of the vital role that science and technology plays in foreign policy, not only because S&T serve as a common “currency” by which countries and economies interact, but also because science, technology, and innovation impact all aspects of foreign policy decision-making.

Today, science diplomacy is crucial as many of us are fighting to protect our natural resources, react to natural disasters, develop sustainable and robust societies, and address conflict.

No one country can tackle these challenges alone. Instead success will require sustained and coordinated action by the global community of nations.


A key question – and one the United States has been focused on for many years – is how to strengthen the scientific workforce so that it is best equipped to address the 21st Century global challenges.

Innovation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is critical to the future. We must draw on talent from every part of our society and capitalize on the extraordinary diversity of thought and problem-solving capability that arises when individuals of diverse backgrounds (ethnic, gender, sexual, and cultural), expertise, and disciplines come together to tackle challenges.

We have seen how diverse international scientific teams can come together and make extraordinary progress at unlocking fundamental mysteries of the universe at CERN, or elucidate basic features of our galaxy and beyond at the International Space Station.

In STEM, diversity leads to enhanced creativity and innovation. A growing body of research shows that diversity in groups bolsters their ability to solve problems; that diversity on campuses enhances students’ advanced thinking and leadership skills; and that diversity in companies improves innovation and strengthens the bottom line.

Ecology demonstrates time and time again that single species ecosystems never survive. Our collective economic growth, security, and competitiveness as a global community depend on inclusion of all types of creators. This is why we must promote diversity in all its forms in our schools, in our laboratories, and in business.


As many of you are already aware, G7 Science Ministers have met regularly since 2013 to discuss global issues that require international scientific cooperation. Their most recent meeting in October 2015 in Berlin resulted in a communique that emphasized the important role S&T plays in solving global problems, and outlined four major priority areas in which Science Ministers were going to engage more closely: poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases, clean energy, oceans/marine litter, and research infrastructure.

The United States is making tremendous progress, in close partnership with G7 countries and other international partners, in each of the four priority areas identified by Science Ministers:

Poverty-Related Diseases (PRDs) and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)

Following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it has become increasingly apparent that catastrophic epidemics can arise in areas of extreme poverty and conflict or post-conflict settings. This exacerbates problems in already stressed health care systems and can lead to breakdowns in the public health infrastructure.

One of our Science Envoys, Dr. Peter Hotez, is using his experience as a physician-scientist, and the head of a non-profit vaccine product development partnership (PDP) to build and shape regional capacity for making vaccines in the Middle East and North Africa. His emphasis is on strengthening Middle Eastern and North African vaccine research and development capacity to position them to eventually develop a new generation of vaccines for neglected tropical diseases.

Dr. Hotez’ efforts are already producing successful outcomes, including a historic agreement on Vaccine Research and Development between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Saud University, and the U.S.-based Sabin Vaccine Institute. This initiative will advance vaccine research and development training and capacity building, and support the creation of a vaccine bioprocess facility in Saudi Arabia.

Oceans/Marine Litter

Secretary Kerry remains deeply committed to protecting the ocean and its marine ecosystems and recently announced the United States would host the 2016 Our Ocean conference. This announcement was coupled with the rollout of several new U.S. commitments to concrete activities that will protect precious ocean areas and marine resources.

The United States announced that it is supporting the development of waste-to-energy demonstration projects in the APEC nations of The Philippines and Indonesia, including in the cities of Dagupan, Angeles, and Bandung, by Waste2Worth, a company dedicated to extracting value from trash as a means to stimulate economic development.

Additionally, the United States and China announced a partnership between the coastal cities of Xiamen (pronounced chee-YA-min) and Weihai (prounounced way-hi) in China and San Francisco and New York in the United States to share best practices related to waste management to reduce the flow of trash into the ocean.

These are but a few examples of U.S. efforts to protect the ocean, and we look forward to working with G7 countries and other international partners to make progress toward other areas outlined in the G7 Science Ministers Communique.

Global Research Infrastructures

The global scope of many of today’s challenges requires resources, expertise, and capabilities that no single nation possesses. Thus, G7 Science Ministers called on their Group of Senior Officials (GSO) to identify opportunities for closer cooperation on the planning and development of global research infrastructures.

As part of GSO efforts, the U.S. National Science Foundation has currently put forward two Global Research Infrastructure candidates – the Ocean Observatories Initiative and JOIDES Resolution - which highlight U.S. interest in initiating or expanding future international cooperation.

The Ocean Observatories Initiative is a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor as well as the overlying atmosphere, providing a fully integrated system collecting data on coastal, regional and global scales.

The JOIDES Resolution is an uniquely outfitted dynamically positioned drillship with a floating laboratory that has been investigating the Earth’s origin and evolution through scientific ocean coring worldwide since 1985.

Additionally, the worldwide growth of public funding support for research has presented an opportunity for countries large and small to work in concert across national borders. Cooperation and collaboration can enhance the quality of science, avoid unnecessary duplication, provide economies of scale, and address issues that can only be solved by working together.

The Global Research Council is a virtual organization, comprised of the heads of science and engineering funding agencies from around the world, dedicated to promoting the sharing of data and best practices for high-quality collaboration among funding agencies worldwide.

The GRC has no permanent secretariat or formal membership. And yet, each year over 100 organizations worldwide participate in meetings to discuss and reach high level consensus on topics such as peer review, research integrity, open access for publications, and the equality and status of women in research. By building trust between funding agencies worldwide, the GRC can help foster greater international cooperation in research.

Clean Energy

Our policy is to ensure clean energy becomes an even larger part of the world’s energy mix. As Secretary Kerry has mentioned the old bromide of a trade-off between growth and environmental protection has been disproven. We are at a point where meeting growing energy needs and protecting the environment can go hand-in-hand.

We need to think about how we can build partnerships with industry, governments, and civil society, to put in place the right policies to make the widespread deployment of clean energy a reality.

There is a real economic market to be developed – and we need to seize the opportunity.

In APEC, the United States chairs the Energy Working Group and successfully achieved a commitment of its member economies to reduce aggregate energy intensity by 45 percent by 2035 and double renewable energy in the regional energy mix by 2030 to achieve sustainable and resilient energy development within APEC. To achieve these goals, the EWG works closely with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in developing a multi-year approach crucial to stimulate energy investments based on shared interest and mutual benefits and developing the APEC Low Carbon Model Town.

In February 2015, Special Envoy Hochstein and India's Minister of Power Goyal launched the U.S.-India Clean Energy Finance Task Force, a forum that allows us to dialogue on ways to attract untapped sources of financing to help India achieve its ambitious renewable energy goals.

Transformation towards clean energy, by accelerating widespread clean energy innovation, is an indispensable part of an effective, long-term global response to our shared climate challenge, is necessary to provide affordable and reliable energy for everyone, and will be critical for energy security.


Effectively addressing 21st century global challenges depends on a dynamic, diverse, and healthy scientific research enterprise.

I believe strongly that the United States, broadly, and the State Department, specifically, benefits greatly when S&T know-how is embedded within and seamlessly integrated into the foreign policymaking apparatus.

S&T Advisory positions like mine are absolutely essential for equipping foreign ministries with the knowledge, capabilities, and experience needed to better handle crises and prepare countries for emerging challenges.

I am personally committed to strengthening international S&T coordination mechanisms, establishing a network of like-minded foreign policy S&T advisers, and promoting a more open and robust scientific enterprise.

Three issues of growing importance to me and the U.S. scientific community are data reliability, data replicability, and research integrity.

Reliability underpins the trust that society places in science. In a modern era where science is the foundation for policy decisions, the information that the scientific community provides policy makers must originate from well-designed experiments whose results are peer reviewed and replicable by others. This reliability requires that we educate aspiring STEM students not only on the modern techniques of science, but also on how to design experiments and develop hypotheses that can be tested.

Replicability is equally important to ensure that the scientific community can police itself. In recent years we have witnessed several high profile scientific retractions in peer reviewed literature. The community must continue to ensure that our publications are sufficiently descriptive to allow others to replicate data, especially for results that might have financial implications.

The last, and perhaps most important issue is research integrity. As a community we must continue to promote an ethical framework that dissuades those who would falsify data for their own benefit, to include appropriate disincentives and punishments, when warranted. Science’s greatest accomplishments can be directly tied to the community’s success in ensuring that its membership adheres to a standard of conduct that builds and maintains trust.

At the end of the day, the effectiveness of S&T to help solve global challenges and produce sound foreign policy is contingent on the quality of the S&T enterprise that underpins it. I look forward to working with all of you as well as other global partners as we work together to create an even stronger scientific enterprise and better position our countries to solve the important challenges of our time.