I am a science diplomat surrounded by dogs. How is this possible? Hanging out with a dog, wearing jeans and a fanny pack (or bum bag, whatever you want to call it). Nothing about this scene screams 'diplomat.' If anything, it seems the polar opposite.
That's where we are wrong. Science diplomacy revolves around fostering international collaborations and partnerships to address scientific questions and existing problems. Yes, science diplomacy plays out on the global scene with countries coming together on joint science and technology initiatives. But science diplomacy is not synonymous with people wearing suits and taking meetings in political buildings. This is just one piece of science diplomacy. Science diplomacy takes place in field research
in Tanzania, underwater
in Cuba, and yes, with dogs
"Science is our shared language" explained Dr. Marga Gual Soler, Project Director at
the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy today on Twitter.
A 2012 piece
in Science & Diplomacy
suggests that the "new era of science diplomacy... involves non-governmental scientists and academics... even in the absence of formal government-to-government relations and despite occasional political crises." The doing
of science -- collaborating, connecting and meeting other scientists from all over the world -- is a core piece of science diplomacy.
Today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Science Diplomacy
() launched the #IAmAScienceDiplomat
Twitter campaign. It aims to illustrate science diplomacy activities in action. A quick scroll-through showcases that cross-country collaborations are much-needed for research, learning and progress. I'll say. It has gotten me to where I am today.
Julie Step 1:
I did not earn a Masters in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare
here in the States. That 'u' slipped into 'behavior' might have tipped you off. Instead, my point of entry was the University of Edinburgh, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies () in the UK along with instructors and researchers from Scotland's Rural College (). Much of the research on animal welfare does not come from the States -- for example, a major journal in the field is Applied Animal Behaviour Science
, again, notice that 'u' -- so I went to a well-established source to learn how to investigate animal behavior and animal well-being.
Julie Step 2:
Go to where the dogs are. Since 1994, the Family Dog Project
) in Budapest has investigated questions of dog behavior and cognition. For my Masters research -- on the 'guilty look'
in dogs -- I joined them to learn the methods of the field while working alongside colleagues from Hungary, Austria, France, Germany, Poland, and other countries.
Of course, dogs aren't aware of international research efforts on their behalf. Companion dogs show up to our studies, they have a good time, and they go home. But our efforts do affect them. Dog well-being and welfare can be improved through our collaborations, and this is one way science diplomacy can make strides.
Take the example of tail docking: in some countries, docking tails and cropping ears for cosmetic purposes is the norm. Elsewhere, like the United Kingdom, tail docking for cosmetic purposes is mostly prohibited
, the result of the blending
of research, public opinion, and practice. Tails, one study found
, are quite useful to dogs (go figure!), particularly for intra-specific communication (meaning communication between members of the same species, aka dog-dog communication). Other studies
highlight that the "simple" wag is quite nuanced and not "simple" at all. Should different countries really hold different opinions on cosmetic tail docking, or is this an area where a dog's tail should do the talking? If the UK view spreads to other countries, it is safe to say that scientists acting in diplomatic roles will help dog behavior and welfare research get traction in international politics.