World Science Collaboration committed to providing no-strings-attached
scientific resources to other countries would change how the United
States is viewed by the world community.
M. Nesse, M.D.
It was somewhat surprising, but still most welcome, to receive your
request for advice on the pressing scientific issues of our time. Brief
general advice won't be very useful, with two possible exceptions. First,
support for superb science education will pay off so handsomely that
I have no idea why you have not done it already. Probably you are distracted,
but this is one of those "not urgent but important" things that should
not be put off further. Second, because the big advances usually come
from basic science, you would do well to invest more there, instead
of assigning resources mainly to solve problems.
however, that what you really want is advice on how to use our scientific
advantage to gain economic and military advantages. We dominate the
world in science, and this science helps us to dominate the world. But,
the price is high. Many in other countries see the United States not
as the leading light, but as a bully that uses its scientific powers
only to advance its own interests. Yes, I know we do much that benefits
other countries, and it must be frustrating to you that these efforts
get so little notice. Nonetheless, many people hate us and see our science
as an instrument of imperialism.
change this, and science can help. We are coming to new explanations
of how relationships work. Trading favors is only the beginning; a reputation
for fulfilling commitments is equally important. Your current policies
demonstrate that you understand the importance of convincing others
that we will fulfill military commitments even when they are not in
our direct interests. There is also power in fulfilling commitments
to help others even when no benefit is expected.
few generous actions based on values, not interests, would change how
the world sees us. Here is one way to proceed. You could create a new
organization, call it The World Science Collaboration, to tackle
problems that other countries find urgent. Provide them with resources
to deal with these problems, and with whatever help they request from
US scientists, many of whom will be eager to contribute to such an effort.
To work, this must not be aid with strings attached, but a gift without
any expectation of paybacks, financial or political. Once it is clear
that we are serious, the world will quickly realize that we do not always
use our science for ourselves.
Furthermore, the initiative will spread scientific expertise that will
foster development and fight superstition. If we invested 4.5 billion
dollars, the cost of one aircraft carrier, into finding cures for malaria
and sleeping sickness, the whole world would see us differently, and
the health of the world would soon be improved. If we set up a dozen
such projects, the changed outcomes in arguments about the USA late
at night in dirt-floored huts across the world might well enhance our
security more than all the technology we can muster.
This opportunity is rare in its appeal to people across the political
spectrum from the helping left, to the pragmatic center and, one would
hope, the truly religious on the right. People here will see this as
a small but feasible and tangible antidote to perceptions that the United
States is the enemy of the rest of the world. People elsewhere will
see that the United States can act on principle instead of cynical self-interest.
This could be the most important accomplishment of your presidency.
be curious to hear your perspectives on this, and glad, if you would
like, to discussion specific plans for implementation.
Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology
Senior Research Scientist, RCGD, Institute for Social Research
The University of Michigan
Author of Why We Get Sick, The New Science of Darwinian Medicine;
Editor of Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment