Institute on Science for Global Policy Draws Top Scientists, Policymakers To Discuss Infectious Diseases

A new UA-based institute uses a novel approach to address some of the world's most vexing science-based challenges.
Nov. 24, 2009
Extra Info: 

Editors note: Because of the give-and-take nature of the conference discussions, sessions will not be open to the media. To arrange interviews with Atkinson and other science and policy participants, contact Arthur Rotstein, who will be at the conference, 520-445-5499.

ISGP Conference: 'Emerging and Persistent Infectious Diseases'
Dec. 6 - 9
Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Road, Tucson
George Atkinson
George Atkinson
(Click to enlarge) Atkinson is no stranger to the U.S. Capitol, pictured here. He served as science and technology adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
(Click to enlarge) Atkinson is no stranger to the U.S. Capitol, pictured here. He served as science and technology adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Policymakers from seven nations and world renowned scientists will convene Dec. 6-9 in Tucson at the first conference of an institute using a new approach to examine and seek solutions to some of the world's most vexing science-based issues.

The conference launches a two-year series of invitation-only conferences on "Emerging and Persistent Infectious Diseases," organized by the University of Arizona-based Institute on Science for Global Policy, or ISGP. Subsequent conferences will be held at other U.S. and international venues.

The December meeting also will examine energy, food safety and security and cyber security, which are topics for future two-year ISGP programs, and will provide the initial opportunity for participants to directly observe the model and judge how effective it could be.

"Many of the most significant geopolitical policy and security issues facing both developed and developing nations are directly connected with the remarkably rapid and profound scientific and technology accomplishments in the 21st century," said UA's George H. Atkinson, director of the institute.

"The ISGP is based on a new idea that there needs to be a better way for science to serve government in its efforts to formulate effective policy," Atkinson said.

Atkinson developed the concept for ISGP after his experience as Science and Technology Adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

"This new approach provides opportunities for scientists to directly address policy-makers, and for policy people to use the ISGP not-for-attribution environment to learn about current problems, scientific options and realities that have to be addressed about some of the great science issues of our time," Atkinson said.

 "This will provide an international debate, and the initial group of countries is coming to look at this as a potential long-term model," he added.

ISGP central to 21st-century academic mission

UA President Robert N. Shelton said, “The University of Arizona is extremely pleased that Professor Atkinson has brought the Institute for Global Policy to its College of Science. In the increasingly global societies of the 21st century, his vision for ISGP fulfills a role that has clearly become central to the mission of academics in general, and especially scientists. These responsibilities are readily embraced by the outstanding faculty at the UA.”

Shelton added, “At a time when financial constraints focus public attention on the immediate cost of universities, it is especially important that we value the unique benefits a world-class university provides in addressing the complex problems currently shaping our lives.

“Failure to invest today in universities can severely limit our abilities to successfully overcome our systematic, long-term challenges that almost certainly will require international cooperation and endorsements,” Shelton said.

College of Science dean Joaquin Ruiz said, “It is clear that scientists engaged in frontier research must be more active in helping decision-makers formulate and implement effective public policy that involves current advances in science and technology.

“Given the daily impact science and technology advances have on our lives, it’s not difficult to identify what these issues are – infectious diseases, energy, climate change, cyber security and food supply,” Ruiz said.  “Clearly, this is an approach whose time has come.” 

Governments are being asked to pay for using the Institute's services and are considering how to fund their participation, Atkinson said. Significant financial support will be required from the governments to underwrite their ongoing engagement.

ISGP conference participants 

Participants will include:

  • Susan Eisenhower, chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute;
  • Dr. Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation;
  • Claude Birraux, chairman of the French National Assembly's Parliamentary Office of Scientific and Technological Assessment;
  • Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona;
  • Katsuhisa Furukawa, fellow, Japanese Science and Technology Agency;
  • Stephen Morse, director of Columbia University's Center for Public Health Preparedness;
  • Dr. David Cope, director of the United Kingdom's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology;
  • Dr. William Wulf, former president of the National Academy of Engineering.

Many of a group of senior policy-makers and scientists invited from the participating countries have confirmed or are sending representatives.

Political, civic and academic leaders from the seven participating nations - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Singapore and Japan - previously identified infectious diseases as one of their foremost critical policy issues and a priority for the Institute - and as likely to significantly impact global public policies.

Future ISGP conferences

Starting early next year, the institute will sponsor six conferences examining various aspects of emerging and persistent infectious diseases, from pandemics and viral mutations to drug resistance.

In addition to energy, food safety and security and cyber security, other topics for future two-year programs include climate change, nanotechnology and human health, strategic materials and advanced telecommunications.

The structure and process of ISGP programs make them unique, Atkinson said. "The idea is to bring many of the most credible, respected and articulate scientists together with government leaders on neutral ground so policy makers can ask any science and technology question they need to understand to come to an informed decision," he said.

The international nature of the institute rests on both the active engagement of governments and the participation of a variety of international universities, including many of the leading institutions of Europe and Asia as well as the United States.

Operationally, the institute interviews leading science and technology scholars are recruited to participate in each conference. Individually, they are asked to assess the issues in concise documents, describe advances in their areas of expertise and then debate with the policy-makers. The focus will be to present credible scientific options from the policy-makers' perspective so that non-scientists have a clear understanding of "actionable decisions," or those that can be brought to reality.

At each conference, each country's delegation will caucus individually, followed by an all-nations caucus, discussing what steps to consider in forming policy. Organizers hope the process will help governments link an understanding of science and technology with key societal issues that form public policies. They believe the forums will help policy-makers fashion public policy and influence what resources are allocated to put them into effect domestically and internationally.

"People can engage here in a completely informal forum which focuses on clarifying their understanding of scientific issues rather than on predetermined government initiatives," Atkinson said. "We would hope that we can help shape domestic and international policies based on sound scientific understanding."

George H. Atkinson

Atkinson, a professor of chemistry and a professor of optical sciences at the UA since 1983, has won numerous awards and honors for his professional career that spans academic administration, teaching and research, private industry and government.

In the U.S. government, Atkinson served in several capacities as a science and technology adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

His honors include:

  • First AIP Scientist/Diplomat, U.S. Department of State, 2001
  • Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, 2002-2007
  • Time-Resolved Vibrational Spectroscopy, Senior Awardee (for lifetime contributions), 2001
  • Senior Alexander von Humboldt Awardee, '89/95/99
  • Five-Star Teaching Award - Outstanding Teacher of the Year, University of Arizona, 1992
  • Distinguished Alumni, Indiana University, 2005
  • Lady Davis Professor at Hebrew University, Israel