Harold Varmus on Scientific Diplomacy

You see, this is why you want to fill your administration with smart, qualified, thoughtful, and innovative people--especially in the sciences. From The Times

A major investment in fighting tropical infections and chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes in poor countries would transform international perceptions of the US, according to Harold Varmus, who co-chairs the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

In an exclusive interview with The Times, Dr Varmus said that American diplomacy had undervalued the role of medicine and science in fostering friendly relations with developing nations.

He is asking President Obama to endorse a plan from the US Institute of Medicine that would almost double annual US support for global health to $15 billion by 2012.

Dr Varmus is also advocating a "Global Science Corps" of scientists willing to spend at least a year working in a poor country, and a network of science attachés for every US embassy.


Scientific exchange, he added, could repair some of the damage done to American's reputation by the Iraq war. "One very healthy way to build relationships up when they have deteriorated is to get the scientists together," he said. We're used to internationalism, it's part of the way we live.

"We're all trying to understand the same forces of nature, which are pretty much the same in every country. We're trying to understand the same problems, we use the same methodologies, the same rules of evidence. There's no doubt that this is a very very fertile field which I think needs to be further incorporated into our foreign policy."

Granted, global health was one of the few areas where the Bush Administration's performance wasn't totally abysmal. Still, so much of the Obama Administration is such a breath of fresh air.

Hat tip to Bora of A Blog Around the Clock

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This is also a smart way to get more funding allocated to global health. There are many scientists who would like to make contributions to developing countries, but unfortunately there are not always well developed channels and opportunities to do so.

On a related note, it would also be great to see an urban and rural health corps set up to help people in local communities.

for a summary of ethics and safety concerns at a high profile cancer research center (mskcc), whose incumbent president is the President's Scientific Advisor, please see:


Sloan is pursuing a systemic approach to reducing expenses and increasing revenues ... One example of this is discouraging terminally ill patients from seeking initial treatment or second opinions from the cancer center ... the admission of such patients is counterproductive ... to Sloan Kettering
[paraphrasing salient features, MSKCC, CFO/Chief Financial Officer]