OTTAWA—In 1898 the U.S. Department of State sent zoologist Charles Wardell Stiles to its embassy in Berlin to overturn protectionist measures the local government had taken against the import of American pork. Stiles won the commendation of the U.S. ambassador in that city for his successful advocacy of free trade.

His larger place in history, however, is as the first person to hold the title "science attaché."

Nearly 90 years later, science attachés are an increasingly visible presence in the world of diplomacy, reflecting the growing importance of science in global affairs. An informal survey shows that France leads the way, with scientific diplomats in 35 capitals and six consulates. It is followed by the Soviet Union, with counselors in 27 capitals, and the United States, with 24. Some embassies are staffed with more than one science attaché.

The background and training of a science attaché varies widely from country...

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