After decades of reductions in the number and salience of nuclear weapons, they are once again at the center of international security. All nine nuclear-armed states are updating their arsenals, and several are expanding them. But despite new military technology and new risks, the concepts underpinning nuclear deterrence have changed little since the height of the Cold War. It is more important than ever that the nuclear policy community recruit new voices from diverse demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds to bring new perspectives, skills, and ideas into the field.
To empower new voices to start their career in nuclear weapons studies, the Federation of American Scientists launched the New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship. Between May and August 2023, each of our inaugural fellows–Anna Pluff, Clara Sherwood, Cameron Vega, and Charlotte Yeung–was paired with a senior academic or policy expert (John Emery, Jamie Withorne, Alan Robock, and Lovely Umayam) to co-author a research project that provides a creative perspective on nuclear deterrence policy.
As a culmination of this year’s fellowship, FAS hosted a showcase featuring presentations by fellows on their research following a Q&A session, as well as remarks by FAS staff on the fellowship’s structure, goals, and role in empowering the next generation of nuclear policy experts. A recording of the showcase is available for viewing below.
Fellowship Projects and Publications
New Voices on Nuclear Weapons fellows have had their research projects published across a variety of mediums. Please see below the fellows’ project summaries and publications related to this fellowship to date; this list will be updated as their research continues to be finalized.
In the early years of the Cold War, many scientists from the Manhattan Project fervently believed in the idea of “One World or None” and promoted nuclear one worldism. Though the scientific profession had relatively little experience with public engagement before the 1940s, scientists banded together to stretch the political possibilities of professional modes of association to foster support for world government. Anna’s case study looks at the historic role that scientific activism played in nuclear policy through one-worldism and how scientific activism can become a viable force in rethinking deterrence today.
- “Failed visionaries: Scientific activism and the Cold War” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
- “What “Oppenheimer” Misses About The Decision to Drop the Bomb” Inkstick Media.
- “Manhattan Project Scientists Believed the Way We Get Out Alive is World Government” Inkstick Media.
Targeted disinformation and rapid digital communication are complicating nuclear deterrence and crisis management in an unprecedented manner. While nuclear discussions have traditionally occurred privately between governments, in the 21st century, there are a myriad of different actors participating in global nuclear conversations. Clara’s research aims to describe how digital narratives from non-governmental actors are contributing to escalation management, nuclear discourse, and nuclear rhetoric in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian War.
- “Exiting Musk’s Twitter Has Compromised Nuclear Communication Channels” Inkstick Media.
American nuclear deterrence inherently relies on ethical principles dictating the appropriate use of nuclear weapons; however, these ethical principles insufficiently consider modern scientific modeling demonstrating the devastating climatic impacts of nuclear use. Cameron’s research aims to update the ethical principles underpinning American nuclear deterrence to account for the realities of how nuclear strikes would affect the local environment and global climate change.
- “The climate blind spot in nuclear weapons policy” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
The nuclear narratives told and believed today are rooted in how nuclear weapons are discussed in schools, culture, and locality. The branching narratives in America and Japan are particularly distinct and told through different forms of official narratives taught in textbooks, visual aesthetics, preservation of nuclear-related sites, movements, and the military-industrial complex. Charlotte’s exhibit and poetry ask how education and culture are the roots through which come the multidimensional nature of how Americans and Japanese learn about nuclear weapons and how those define the systems that shape public opinion about nuclear weapons today in those two countries.
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) seeks to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress. In recognition of her work in public service, FAS will honor Dr. Alondra Nelson with the Public Service Award next month alongside other distinguished figures including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN) for their work in Congress making the CHIPS & Science Act a reality to ensure a better future for our nation.
In addition to my role as Senior Fellow in Science Policy for FAS, I have the pleasure of chairing Membership Engagement for Section X, a governance committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) focused on Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering. I had the honor of co-moderating a session featuring Dr. Alondra Nelson last week, titled Big Issues for Science Policy in a Challenging World—A Conversation with Dr. Alondra Nelson at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Washington D.C.
The hybrid event was co-organized with Section K (Social, Economic, and Political Sciences) and co-moderated with Dr. Barbara Schneider, John A. Hannah University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University and Immediate Past Chair of AAAS Section K. We led a targeted Q&A discussion informed by audience questions in-person and online.
The conversation focused on how scientific and technical expertise can have a seat at the policymaking table, which aligns with the mission of FAS, and provided key insights from an established leader. Opening remarks featured reflections from Dr. Alondra Nelson on the current state of key issues in science policy that were priorities during her time in the Biden-Harris administration, and her views on the landscape of challenges that should occupy our attention in science policy today and in the future. Dr. Alondra Nelson is the Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and a distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. A former deputy assistant to President Joe Biden, she served as acting director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the first ever Deputy Director for Science and Society.
FAS is highly invested in ensuring that federal government spending is directed towards enhancing our nation’s competitiveness in science and technology. Dr. Nelson emphasized the idea of innovation for a purpose, and how scientific research and technology development have the potential to improve society, including through STEM education and the infrastructure necessary for research investments to be successful. She also discussed how science and technology can advance democratic values, and highlighted three examples from her time at OSTP that provide promise for the future, including: the cancer moonshot; expanding access to federally funded research across the country; and the need for bringing new voices into science and technology.
Public trust in science and public engagement. The moderated discussion began with the idea of public trust in science in order to set the stage for the current policy landscape. We are operating in a low trust environment for science, and we should make scientific data more accessible to the public. She also highlighted that we need to engage the public in the design process of science and technology, which is why the OSTP Division of Science and Society was initially created. On this point, Dr. Nelson also said that “science policy is a space of possibility” and that we need to expand these opportunities more widely.
Scientific workforce, federal investments and international collaboration. Dr. Nelson described the need to make the implementation of CHIPS and Science a reality and to bring more young voices into science and technology. She remarked that the promise of the CHIPS and Science Act is the intention around investments, and that “we need the ‘and science’ part to be fully funded in order to support the future scientific workforce.” To the question of how we should target federal investments in science and technology, she emphasized the need for collaborative research, bipartisan opportunities, and continuing to study the ‘science of science’ in order to understand the best ways for improving the system, while recognizing that the ROI from the investments we make today may take a few generations to be evident. Relatedly, on the question of ensuring our nation’s competitiveness in science and technology while fostering international collaboration, Dr. Nelson reminded the audience that “national security is a concern around many STEM areas of research.”
Including marginalized voices and technological development. A significant part of the conversation focused on ensuring that marginalized voices have a seat at the table in science and technology. Dr. Nelson stated bluntly that “you can’t have good science without diversity” and that we need to support institutions across the country and engage with different types of educational institutions that may have been traditionally marginalized. To this end, as an example, she emphasized that OSTP previously engaged indigenous knowledge in its work around science and technology governance. The field of artificial intelligence (AI) was also discussed as an example of an area where we need to elevate the visibility of ethical issues that marginalized communities face. The CHIPS and Science Act focused on key technology areas that could create jobs in fields such as AI, leading to a discussion on the need for better policy around emerging technologies, creating high quality jobs, and a stronger focus on workers in the innovation economy.
The event concluded with a high level discussion on policy impact, to which Dr. Nelson remarked that “if you want your science to have an impact, you should find ways to elevate the visibility of your findings among policymakers.” She stated that this will necessitate expanding our current methods to include broader voices in science and technology in the future. We look forward to honoring Dr. Nelson’s impact in the field during next month’s FAS event.
September should be considered National Bioeconomy Month. This past September marked the one year anniversary of the 2022 Presidential Executive order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy (affectionately known as the Bioeconomy EO). SynBioBeta celebrated the occasion by organizing a Bioeconomy Product Showcase on Capitol Hill that highlighted many different companies within the bioeconomy and proudly boasted bipartisan support in attendance. FAS wrapped up the month by hosting a Bioeconomy & Biomanufacturing Hill Day and Dinner on September 28th, 2023. We brought in some of our subject matter experts to talk in-depth about their Day One Memos and other contributions with key members of Congress.
Highlights Hill Day & Dinner
- Workforce development for the bioeconomy was a hot topic. Our subject matter experts pointed to the need for workers that have interdisciplinary skill sets that include both bio and engineering or bio and computer science. Support for interdisciplinary fellowships (like the Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship) could help fill this need. Robust training is needed at all levels of biomanufacturing processes, and could include internships, apprenticeships, and associates and bachelors degree programs.
- To create supply chain resiliency and be competitive with other nations in the global bioeconomy, it is imperative to reduce costs of producing inputs needed for biomanufacturing (e.g., amino acids for biopharma), and to produce these inputs within the U.S. Our current reliance on other countries, like China, for these materials makes our bioeconomy fragile and susceptible to disruptions.
- A successful U.S. bioeconomy needs a strategic framework that unites the different agencies working on different aspects of the bioeconomy, including investments (e.g., EDA Tech Hubs, DoD Biomanufacturing Strategy, and NSF BioFoundries) and regulatory oversight. Both the Bioeconomy EO and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 called for the creation of a coordinating office housed in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), but there has been no movement to create this coordinating office.
- The bioeconomy also needs appropriate financing. Many startups face the challenge that funding from venture capital firms requires a fast turnaround time for a return on investment (typically 3-5 years). Due to the nature of the products that are produced, many biotech companies are unable to demonstrate their value so quickly. In addition, scaling from a laboratory benchtop to industrial-scale biomanufacturing is expensive and is seen as too risky for typical bank loans. For the bioeconomy to be economically viable, it will need financial measures (potentially, tax incentives, credits, or other financial programs) to support biomanufacturing so that companies can have a chance to show they are viable and valuable.
- To capture the economic value of the bioeconomy and the impact of investments in this sector, appropriate metrics and measurements are needed. In March of 2023, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) published a feasibility report that indicated that it would be difficult to measure all aspects of the bioeconomy due to a lack of consensus definition, but a satellite account could be created to track aspects of the bioeconomy. However, in order for the BEA to create this type of account, Congress would need to appropriate the funds and direct the BEA to do so.
- Executive branch agencies are working towards a prosperous and resilient bioeconomy that is competitive at the global level, but these agencies can only do so much without Congressional champions on the Hill to keep fighting and funding the programs needed to achieve this.
Next Year is Critical for the Bioeconomy
In a short timespan, several federal agencies have pushed the needle forward in terms of the U.S. bioeconomy, however there is no shortage of work left in order to achieve a “Sustainable, Safe, and Secure” bioeconomy. For the next year, we would like to see an updated definition of the U.S. bioeconomy that accounts and specifies sectors that are and are not part of the bioeconomy and takes sustainability as its main priority. In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) should update the Bioeconomy Lexicon and prioritize setting standards for biomanufacturing that utilizes a sector to sector approach instead of an overarching standards approach to ensure that innovation is not stifled by standards that do not allow for the flexibility needed in the biotech space.
Additionally, it will be vital for the federal government to enact a true framework for the U.S. bioeconomy by creating a coordinating office housed in OSTP that works with the various federal agencies focused on the bioeconomy and provide support to publish the reports directed by the Bioeconomy EO on time. Furthermore, in order to achieve products, goods, and services that are sustainable, secure, and safe, it will be essential for the coordinating office to gather public opinions in order to help shape and influence our bioeconomy.
Increased congressional involvement is also necessary to address key challenges the bioeconomy currently faces, such as the inability to measure the bioeconomy and the challenge that companies within the bioeconomy face (such as incomplete knowledge on processes relating to creating a startup, scaling goods and serves, and navigating the regulatory system). The BEA should be directed by Congress to create a satellite account to measure the U.S. bioeconomy and Congress should mandate a public-private driven landscape analysis on the current financial situation of the U.S. bioeconomy in order to be able to identify the gaps in financing the sector currently faces.
There is no doubt that the bioeconomy has potential to grow, but it needs a solid framework to stand upon. Implementing some or all of these ideas will not only lead to a prosperous bioeconomy, but it will also create one that is resilient, sustainable, and secure.
Until a month ago, I was an event skeptic.
When it’s as easy as a Zoom link to connect with colleagues, I found it hard to believe that getting a bunch of people together around an agenda was ever really worth the time and effort.
Point one for my colleagues at FAS and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who thought that co-hosting an “Evidence Forum” in support of the White House Year of Evidence for Action was a good idea. And were completely right.
The FAS-OMB Evidence Forum, a half-day session in Washington, DC on October 7, 2022, proved that events can indeed drive forward progress when they include three key components: compelling ideas, effective champions, and an open structure that enables participants to identify intersections with their own work. Let’s touch on each of these in the context of the Evidence Forum.
The Evidence Forum showcased four novel proposals for enhancing evidence-based policy and practice across federal government. Three of these ideas were developed through the “Evidence for Action Challenge” co-sponsored by FAS and the Pew Charitable Trusts Evidence Project. These ideas were:
- Incorporating evidence on what the public values into policymaking. For instance, public willingness to embrace various forms of climate-adaptation strategies can and should be considered alongside expert assessments when designing climate action plans.
- Using unmet desire surveys to facilitate productive collaboration among federal agency staff and external experts. Such surveys could, in particular, identify where federal staff could use help from others in advancing agency learning agendas.
- Launching an intergovernmental research and evaluation consortium focused on economic mobility. By linking datasets and creating reusable evaluation templates, such a consortium could enable cheap, fast, and reliable assessments of various economic programs.
A fourth idea also shared at the Forum was incorporating Living Evidence into federal initiatives. While traditional approaches to knowledge synthesis are often static and can quickly go out of date in rapidly evolving fields, Living Evidence uses thoughtfully designed, dynamic methodologies to produce knowledge summaries that are always current. This is especially important for topics where new research evidence is emerging rapidly, current evidence is uncertain, and new research might change policy or practice.
The Forum demonstrated how much more powerful ideas on paper become when articulated by someone who can give those ideas dimensionality and life. In an armchair discussion, Drs. Julian Elliott (Monash University) and Arlene Bierman (U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) emphasized that Living Evidence is not a theoretical construct—it is already informing dynamic COVID-19 clinical-practice guidelines and shedding light on plant-based treatments as an alternative pain-management approach. Similarly, Kathy Stack (Yale University) drew on her extensive past experience at OMB to illustrate why intergovernmental partnerships are crucial for improving evaluation and delivery of programs that serve overlapping populations.
The Forum elevated newer voices as well. Postdoctoral research associate Nich Weller (Arizona State University) argued that while federal evidence efforts acknowledge the importance of social, cultural and Indigenous knowledge, they do not draw adequate attention to the challenges of generating, operationalizing, and integrating such evidence in routine policy and decision making. Nich laid out a vision for a federal evidence enterprise that would incorporate the living and lived experiences, knowledge, and values of the public alongside scientific findings and expert analysis. Associate Professor Adam Levine (Johns Hopkins University) also emphasized that effective evidence-based policy depends on interpersonal connections. As Adam explained,
The issue isn’t simply that strangers do not know each other—it’s also that strangers do not always know how to talk to one another.
Intentionally addressing this reality is essential to cultivating productive working relationships.
We’ve all been to events where you get talked at for a few hours, then leave and continue on with your day. The FAS-OMB Evidence Forum broke this mold by providing opportunities for interactive Q&A throughout the first portion of the agenda—and then dedicating the second portion to an open ideation session that encouraged attendees to brainstorm how Living Evidence could be applied in their home institutions.
Once a lighthearted icebreaker question (“What is your favorite pasta shape and why?”) got creative juices flowing, the ideas came fast and furious. Working collaboratively first in pairs, then in small groups, and finally altogether, participants ultimately honed in on four pressing policy questions that Living Evidence could help answer:
- What types of stakeholder engagement strategies are most effective?
- How do various social determinants of health affect health outcomes?
- When should those suffering from long COVID be deemed eligible for disability benefits?
- How can government bridge local knowledge and academic research on climate adaptation strategies?
Participants also worked together to outline specific components that could be included in Living Evidence research agendas for each of these questions and defined criteria for success.
A lot of great stuff happened during the Forum itself. But I’ve been even more excited to witness the follow-on in the weeks since. Motivated by the Forum, agencies are already taking concrete steps to scope intergovernmental research and evaluation consortia for other policy domains, update existing surveys with unmet desire questions, reframe public values as empirical evidence, and consider what support and guidance is needed to position Living Evidence as a standard component of the federal evaluation toolkit.
And I am confident that, in what remains of the White House Year of Evidence and thereafter, much more exciting work is to come. To echo the words of Sir Jeremy Farrar (Wellcome) during his Evidence Forum keynote address,
This is the moment for us to grasp—not in fear, not in uncertainty, not to be down beaten by the challenges the world faces at the moment. But to say that we actually can make the world a better place.
How could anyone be skeptical of that?
Missed the Forum? A full recording can be accessed here, using the passcode vm6?$rK%