Science and politics have always been uncomfortable bedfellows. Until relatively recently, it has been a longstanding principle that scientists ought to keep a healthy distance from politics, lest politics corrupt science. Scientists do the research; political leaders can access findings as they see fit. So the reasoning goes.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the old relationship between science and politics cannot stand. The need to integrate expert knowledge into policymaking is paramount, so scientists must learn how effectively to enter the policy arena. They must become science diplomats.

So argues SFI External Professor Manfred Laubichler (Arizona State University) and colleagues in a recent perspective piece for Science & Diplomacy (a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science). For Laubichler and his co-authors, scientists must move beyond disciplinary divisions; cope with complex problems where incomplete knowledge is inevitable; and serve as honest brokers to integrate scientific knowledge into political decision-making.

Science can also look to its own organizational structures to model global coordination. As the authors write, “the urgent task is to (re)build a framework for coordination and to regain the trust needed for it to work effectively. Science is an essential part of this system, not only because of what it does, but also how it does it.”

With respect to how science does things, science works as a coordinated global structure, and it readily adapts to change to do its work. If science must learn to enter politics, science also has much to teach politics about how to respond to complex challenges in a global age.

Read the article in Science & Diplomacy (January 22, 2021)