I read with great interest the Opinion article (Nature 404, 1; 2000) concerning attempts by the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to produce a scientifically literate State Department. Such attempts will, of course, fail in the end, since the approach being taken by Albright and State Department officials is at best inconsequential, and at worst, perverse.

Hiring an upper-echelon official merely exacerbates the already deleterious hierarchical structure that exists in the US State Department and does not achieve any objective whatsoever. The clear and obvious way to improve the ‘scientific literacy’ of State Department officials is, first, to remove the bias against scientists present among many diplomats in the State Department and, second, to hire more (not fewer) scientists as foreign service officers and science attachés at embassies overseas, particularly those scientists who have abundant international affairs experience, knowledge of foreign languages and expertise in global science policy.

Until the prejudiced belief that scientists somehow cannot make competent diplomats is completely removed from the US State Department, actions like Albright's are mere window-dressing.