The Role of Science and Technology in Future Design
by Jerome Karle
1985 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
The role of science and technology in future design will be discussed from the perspective of someone who has lived all his life in the United States and whose scientific experience has spanned the years since the late 1930s. It is likely that the reader will find in my discussion characteristics that apply to many developed countries and developing ones. Inasmuch as scientific progress is highly dependent on financial support and, in modern times, on general societal support, it is appropriate to discuss the interaction of science and society. Using the United States as an example, some of the topics to be discussed are the views of public officials who influence the distribution of research funds, the response of funding agencies and the views of scientists. Finally, we shall look at the co-evolution of science and society and attempt to draw some conclusions concerning their related future and the implications for the future of technology.
Views of Public Officials
Public officials who are involved in setting or influencing science policy have expressed opinions that indicate that they intend to change the basis for supporting research and development. They speak in terms of a "paradigm shift" based on some new perception of the role of science in society. The word paradigm has several meanings, but in the way it is used here the words "pattern" or "model" may be good substitutes. In other words, the public officials wish to alter somewhat the pattern of funding for science. Their motivation is to orient research more toward programs that, for example, ensure a stronger economy and improvements in the environment. It is becoming increasingly apparent that those public officials who control public funds, will be reluctant to fund research programs that they consider unrelated to national needs.
An example of priority-setting by public officials was the vote in the House of Representatives against further construction of the high energy accelerator known as the superconducting super collider. This shift in spending priorities implies that nuclear physics may receive less support in the future if it continues to be viewed as less related to the new national priorities than other scientific disciplines.
Views of Funding Agencies
The effect of the intention of federal officials to shift public research funds toward research programs that serve the national priorities has already affected the nature of the funding available at the funding agencies. For example, at the National Science Foundation, a small increase in funding for the chemistry division is directed toward so-called strategic research initiatives that involve, for example, advanced materials and processing, biotechnology, environmental chemistry and high-performance computing. It is likely that this trend will continue. The Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering and Technology identified the current national priority areas as high-performance computing, advanced materials, manufacturing research and education, biotechnology and global change. The expressed intention is to get more effort into those areas, but not to have them be entirely exclusive.
Views of Scientists
Many questions arose in the scientific community as a consequence of the use of words such as "new paradigm," "strategic areas", "priorities," and "national competitiveness" in statements concerning the future funding of science. The questions concerned many aspects of the support of science, such as, is the paradigm really new, who decides which areas are strategic and who sets the priorities, and are the important contributions of curiosity-driven basic research to be largely sacrificed.
The indications so far are quite clear that the government expects to shift publicly funded research activity into the areas that are deemed strategic. Is this a new paradigm or merely a shift in emphasis? Quite apparently there has been over the years heavy funding and much research in the strategic (priority) areas. There also has been in the United States, a major Industry-University cooperative research program conducted by the National Science Foundation. It celebrated its 20th year of operation in January, 1994. An account of this very successful and extensive program has been presented in the January 24, 1994 issue of Chemical and Engineering News published by the American Chemical Society. The motivation of this cooperative program is to develop and transfer industrially relevant technologies from the university into practice. There are currently more than 50 active centers involving about 1,000 faculty members, about 1,000 graduate students and 78 universities. More than 700 organizations sponsor the centers, including government agencies, national laboratories and about 500 industrial firms. A table in the article lists 55 research topics covering a broad array of technologies. It is pointed out that the success rate is very high, namely only 6% of the centers have failed. Major investments have been made by sponsor organizations, based on center technologies. There are also many other industry-university collaborations that are not part of the National Science Foundation program.
Do we really have a "new paradigm" and, if so, what is it? Performing research in the interest of national needs is not new. Cooperating with industry is not new. Setting priorities is not new. What could be new? It is indicated that what is new is that by control of public funds curiosity driven research is to be curtailed to some unspecified degree in favor of research perceived to be in the national interest. This, I believe is the source of the apprehension among scientists. The major developments in science and technology generally derive from curiosity driven research and these developments have had over time great impact on the national interest, enriching the country with whole new industries and making contributions to the health, welfare, comfort and security of society. Is curtailing curiosity driven research in the national interest?
The Impact of Curiosity Driven Basic Research
Many scientific groups have produced literature that describes, in terms of many examples, how curiosity driven research has led to important developments in the interest of society. The October, 1993 issue of Physics Today celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the journal, Physical Review. A major part of this issue was devoted to the matter of basic research. An article by Robert K. Adair and Ernest M. Henley pointed out that "a century of fundamental physics research has appeared in the Physical Review. Such research is the seed corn of the technological harvest that sustains modern society." In an article on the laser, Nicolaas Bloembergen points out that "the first paper reporting an operating laser was rejected by Physical Review Letters in 1960. Now lasers are a huge and growing industry, but the pioneers' chief motivation was the physics." In an article on fiber optics, Alister M. Glass notes that "fundamental research in glass science, optics and quantum mechanics has matured into a technology that is now driving a communications revolution." In an article on superconductivity, Theodore H. Geballe states that "it took half a century to understand Kamerlingh Onnes' discovery, and another quarter-century to make it useful. Presumably we won't have to wait that long to make practical use of the new high-temperature superconductors." Other articles concerned nuclear magnetic resonance, semiconductors, nanostructures and medical cyclotrons, all subjects of great technological and medical importance that originated in basic physical research.
In a preface for a publication of the American Chemical Society, Science and Serendipity, the President of the ACS in 1992, Ernest L. Eliel, writes about "The Importance of Basic Research." He writes that "many people believe - having read about the life of Thomas Edison - that useful products are the result of targeted research, that is, of research specifically designed to produce a desired product. But the examples given in this booklet show that progress is often made in a different way. Like the princes of Serendip, researchers often find different, sometimes greater, riches than the ones they are seeking. For example, the tetrafluoroethylene cylinder that gave rise to Teflon was meant to be used in the preparation of new refrigerants. And the anti-AIDS drug AZT was designed as a remedy for cancer." He goes on to say that "most research stories are of a different kind, however. The investigators were interested in some natural phenomenon, sometimes evident, sometimes conjectured, sometimes predicted by theory. Thus, Rosenberg's research on the potential effects of electric fields on cell division led to the discovery of an important cancer drug; Kendall's work on the hormones of the adrenal gland led to an anti-inflammatory substance; Carothers' work on giant molecules led to the invention of Nylon; Bloch and Purcell's fundamental work in the absorption of radio frequency by atomic nuclei in a magnetic field led to MRI. Development of gene splicing by Cohen and Boyer produced, among other products, better insulin. Haagen-Smit's work on air pollutants spawned the catalytic converter. Reinitzer's discovery of liquid crystals is about to revolutionize computer and flat-panel television screens, and the discovery of the laser - initially a laboratory curiosity - is used in such diverse applications as the reattachment of a detached retina and the reading of barcodes in supermarkets. All of these discoveries are detailed in this booklet (Science and Serendipity). Ernest Eliel goes on to point, out that "the road from fundamental discovery to practical application is often quite long, ranging from about 10 years in the example of Nylon to some 80 years in the case of liquid crystals." He concludes that "if we stop doing fundamental research now, the 'well' that supplies the applications will eventually run dry. In other words, without continuing fundamental research, the opportunities for new technology are eventually going to shrink."
Some of the other topics in the brochure on Science and Serendipity, that were included to document further the importance of basic research, concerned several examples of the impact of chemistry on medicine. There are, in fact, countless such examples. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in their Newsletter of May, 1993 considered basic biomedical research and its benefits to society. I quote from the FASEB Public Affairs Bulletin of May, 1993. "There have been recent suggestions that tighter linkage between basic research and national goals should become a criterion for research support. Concerns also have been raised that science is being practiced for its own sake, and that it would be better for the nation if research were oriented more toward specific industrial applications." They go on to point out that "the available evidence, however, clearly indicates that the desired linkage already exists. Indeed, a majority of scientists are intimately involved in the study and treatment of common human diseases and collaborate closely with clinical scientists. Industries involved in biomedical development have been remarkably efficient in commercial application of treatment modalities based on discoveries resulting from fundamental research funded primarily by the federal government.
"A critical factor in sustaining the competitive position of biomedical-based industries is for basic research to continue to provide a stream of ideas and discoveries that can be translated into new products. It is essential to provide adequate federal support for a broad base of fundamental research, rather than shifting to a major emphasis on directed research, because the paths to success are unpredictable and subject to rapid change.
"History has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not possible to predict which efforts in fundamental research will lead to critical insights about how to prevent and treat disease; it is therefore essential to support a sufficient number of meritorious projects in basic research so that opportunities do not go unrealized. Although its primary aim is to fill the gaps in our understanding of how life processes work, basic research has borne enormous fruit in terms of its practical applications. We recognize that during a time when resources are constrained, it may be tempting to direct funding to projects that appear likely to provide early practical returns, but we emphasize that support for a wide-ranging portfolio of untargeted research has proven to be the better investment. This provides the broader base of knowledge from which all new medical applications arise. Decisions regarding what research to fund must be based on informed judgments about which projects represent the most meritorious ideas."
FASEB continues with a discussion of economic benefits and a number of examples of basic research-driven medical breakthroughs. "Society reaps substantial benefit from basic research. Technologies derived from basic research have saved millions of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs. According to an estimate by the National Institutes of Health on the economic benefits of 26 recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, some $6 billion in medical costs are saved annually by those innovations alone. The significance of these basic research-derived developments, however, transcends the lowering of medical costs: the lives of children as well as adults are saved, and our citizens are spared prolonged illness or permanent disability. Fuller, more productive lives impact positively on the nation's economic and social progress."
FASEB continues with thirteen examples of contributions by basic research to the diagnosis and treatment of numerous diseases, most of them very serious. Also noted in this Public Affairs Bulletin is that "our ability to know in advance all that is relevant is very poor" (Robert Frosch) and that, in suggesting new ideas for the management of funding for science, never considered were "the serious consequences of harming the system."
Up to this point, we have been concerned with basic science and its support by government funds in a modern society. Although there is also some support by private institutions established for that purpose and also some industrial investment in generally product-oriented basic research, the greatest amount of support by far comes from public funds. One of the ways that the public is repaid for their support is through the technology that fundamental research generates. I suspect that the economic return from technology alone more than compensates for the monies expended for the entire basic research effort. I have no estimate, however, of whether my suspicion is true or not. It should be noted that the public gains much more than the economic value of technology. It gains culture, comfort, convenience, security, recreation, health and the extension of life. What monetary value can be put on the triumphs of health over debilitating or fatal disease? The monetary value has to be higher than the purely economic savings that were noted above in the 26 examples referred to in the FASEB Bulletin.
The word "technology" means industrial science and is usually associated with major activities such as manufacturing, transportation and communication. Technology has been, in fact, closely associated with the evolution of man starting with tools, clothing, fire, shelter and various other basic survival items. The co-evolution persists and, since basic science is now very much a part of developing technologies, the term co-evolution of science and society which is used at times very much implies the co-evolution of both basic science and industrial science with society. Advances in technology are generally accompanied by social changes as a consequence of changing economies and ways of carrying out life's various activities. An important question arises concerning how basic scientific discoveries eventually lead to new technologies and what that may mean to the rational support of basic research and the future of science and technology in the developed and developing world.
There are great uncertainties in the process that starts with basic research and ends with an economically successful technology. The successful discovery of a new development in research that appears to have technological significance does not ensure the economic success of technologies that may be based on it.
Nathan Rosenberg of Stanford University, in a speech, "Uncertainty and Technological Change", before the National Academy of Sciences (April, 1994), pointed out that there are great uncertainties regarding economic success even in research that is generally directed toward a specific technological goal. He notes that uncertainties derive from many sources, for example, failure to appreciate the extent to which a market may expand from future improvement of the technology, the fact that technologies arise with characteristics that are not immediately appreciated, and failure to comprehend the significance of improvements in complementary inventions, that is inventions that enhance the potential of the original technology. Rosenberg also points out that many new technological regimes take many years before they replace an established technology and that technological revolutions are never completed overnight. They require a long gestation period. Initially it is very difficult to conceptualize the nature of entirely new systems that develop by evolving over time. Rosenberg goes on to note that major or "breakthrough" innovations induce other innovations and their "ultimate impact depends on identifying certain specific categories of human needs and catering to them in novel or more cost effective ways. New technologies need to pass an economic test, not just a technological one."
What does this mean with regard to government managed research? I quote from Rosenberg's speech.
"I become distinctly nervous when I hear it urged upon the research community that it should unfurl the flag of 'relevance' to social and economic needs. The burden of much of what I said is that we frequently simply do not know what new findings may turn out to be relevant, or to what particular realm of human activity that relevance may eventually apply. Indeed, I have been staking the broad claim that a pervasive uncertainty characterizes, not just basic research, where it is generally acknowledged, but the realm of product design and new product development as well - i.e., the D of R&D. Consequently, early precommitment to any specific, large-scale technology project, as opposed to a more limited, sequential decision-making approach, is likely to be hazardous - i.e., unnecessarily costly. Evidence for this assertion abounds in such fields as weapons procurement, the space program, research on the development of an artificial heart, and synthetic fuels.
"The pervasiveness of uncertainty suggests that the government should ordinarily resist the temptation to play the role of a champion of any one technological alternative, such as nuclear power, or any narrowly concentrated focus of research support, such as the War on Cancer. Rather, it would seem to make a great deal of sense to manage a deliberately diversified research portfolio, a portfolio that will illuminate a range of alternatives in the event of a reordering of social or economic priorities. My criticism of the federal government's postwar energy policy is not that it made a major commitment to nuclear power that subsequently turned out to be problem-ridden. Rather, the criticism is aimed at the single-mindedness of the focus on nuclear power that led to a comparative neglect of many other alternatives, including not only alternative energy sources but improvements in the efficiency of energy utilization."
To these words, I add those (noted by FASEB) of Bruce Ferguson, Executive Vice President of Orbital Sciences Corporation, a space technology firm. Ferguson said, "The federal government should focus its research and development spending on those areas for which the benefits are diffuse and likely to be realized over many years, rather than areas for which benefits are concentrated on particular products or firms over a few years. These areas are not well covered by corporate investment, yet are vital to the long-term economic strength of the country."
Some reactions to "strategic" research are recounted in an article in Nature of February 10, 1994 (Vol. 367, pp. 495-496) from which I quote some passages. The concept of strategic research "is not an unfamiliar cry, witness last year's debate in Britain about harnessing of research to 'wealth creation.' Nor, of course, is the objective in any way disreputable; what scientist would not be cheered to know that his or her research won practical benefits for the wider world as well as a modicum of understanding? The difficulties are those of telling in advance which particular pieces of research will lead to 'new technologies' and then to 'jobs'.
"The recent past is littered with examples of adventurous goal-directed programmes of research and development which have failed for intrinsic reasons or which, alternatively, have been technically successful, but unusable for economic or other reasons."
The article goes on to say that the affection for strategic research in the United States may prove short-lived. "In Britain, much the same seems to be happening. Having pinned its reorganization of research on the doctrine of science for wealth-creation, the government appears now to be more conscious of the problems it has undertaken to solve. Indeed, the prime minister, John Major, seemed to be suggesting in a speech last week that the British part of the research enterprise deserves respect of the kind accorded to other social institutions at the heart of his 'back to basics' rhetoric. After more than a decade of needless damage-doing, that would be only prudent."
As a final remark, the article ends with the statement: "On the grander questions, on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems likely that the first flush of enthusiasm for turning research into prosperity will be abated by the reality of the difficulties of doing so. When governments discover in the course of seeking radical reorganization that the best they can do with their parts of the research enterprise is to cherish them, the lessons are likely to be remembered. If the outcome in the research community is a more vivid awareness of how much the world at large looks to research for its improvement, so much the better."
The Future of Science, Technology and Society
In discussing the future of science (including industrial science) and society, it is valuable to recount some of the important points that emerged from the previous discussion.
1. As a consequence of recognizing the economic benefits that derive from the development of novel, successful technologies, governments have been attempting to direct research, supported with public funds, toward subjects that are perceived as national priorities. This contrasts with broad-based "curiosity" oriented basic research.
2. The views of scientists, a distinguished economist, some industrial leaders and an editorial comment in a distinguished science journal provide very strong indications that governmental management of goal-oriented research is replete with uncertainties and pitfalls and, although well-motivated, may cause serious damage to the scientific culture. This, of course, would defeat the original purpose, since the co-evolution of science and society is a very-well documented and irrefutable phenomenon.
3. Strong arguments are presented in this article by individuals and groups that support the current system of governmental funding of a very broad range of scientific efforts as probably being as close to optimal with regard to national priorities as is possible. No one can predict with any certainty what the most successful inventions and technologies will be in the future. The economic return on federally supported funding was the subject of a report by the Council of Economic Advisors to President Clinton. This report was released in November 1995. It documents high returns to the economy and the importance of governmental involvement. 1
4. By any measure, basic scientific research has made monumental contributions to technology and national priorities. The bond between basic research and the development of both novel and current technologies has been and is well in place.
There is no question that science and society will continue to co-evolve. The nature of this evolution will certainly be affected by the extent to which governments set funding priorities. Societies whose governments recognize the dependence of the development of successful novel technologies on broadly supported basic research are more likely to be healthier and economically prosperous in the future than those that do not. Because of the unpredictability of the details of the new science and technology that will evolve, the details of social evolution are also unpredictable.
1. The CEA Report on Economic Returns from R&D is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.whitehouse.gov.
First published 29 June 2000
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The Role of Science and Technologyin Society and Governance
Toward a New Contract between
Science and Society
Kananaskis Village, Alberta (Canada), 1-3 November 1998
of the Report of the North American Meeting
held in advance of the World Conference on Science
Science in Transition
Communication and Education
Economics versus Sustainable Development
Science Policy and Ethics
Integrating Issues - Science and Society
Representatives from Mexico, the USA and Canada met in Alberta, Canada, to examine the impact of scientific change on society and its governance. Preparing for the 1999 World Conference on Science, the group looked at many aspects of the links between science and society strengths, weaknesses, benefits, pitfalls and possible future directions. The full report and its appendices summarizes the groups reflections and is addressed to the World Conference on Science.
Brief presentations on four selected topics where the applications of science affect virtually everyone agriculture and food production, genetic research in medicine, global change, and energy helped to ground the discussion in real issues. By intention, many points raised cut across the specific introductory topics. The report groups the resulting discussion under six broad themes: science in transition; communication and education; North-South issues; economics versus sustainable development; science policy and ethics; and integrating issues.
The meeting was not intended to define an official North American position; rather, participants were invited in their capacity as professional scientists, to present their personal perspectives on the changing role of science in society and governance in an open forum. From this frank and penetrating exchange, a number of general observations and conclusions emerged that are relevant to the concept and agenda of the World Science Conference. These are accompanied by suggestions for action recommended by some or several participants.
Science in Transition
In the past, our scientific methods and institutions have tended to emphasize the study of individual natural processes rather than systems, analysis more than synthesis, and understanding nature more than predicting its behaviour. And in many instances, science has focussed on short-term, small-scale problems, often in monodisciplinary mode, rather than on long-term, large-scale or integrated problems. While these approaches and perspectives have built up a considerable base of knowledge and led to a vast portfolio of useful technologies, especially in the 20th century, many of the problems now facing humankind can be solved only if we approach science more holistically. Greater effort is needed to understand integrated natural systems on multiple time and space scales.
Scientific findings must also be appliedat the right scales. The impact of technological interventions on individual people, communities and the environment must also be carefully considered. To do this, science needs to become more multidisciplinary and its practitioners should continue to promote cooperation and integration between the social and natural sciences. A holistic approach also demands that science draw on the contributions of the humanities (such as history and philosophy), local knowledge systems, aboriginal wisdom, and the wide variety of cultural values.
The influence of science on peoples lives is growing. While recent benefits to humanity are unparalleled in the history of the human species, in some instances the impact has been harmful or the long-term effects give causes for serious concerns. A considerable measure of public mistrust of science and fear of technology exists today. In part, this stems from the belief by some individuals and communities that they will be the ones to suffer the indirect negative consequences of technical innovations introduced to benefit only a privileged minority. The power of science to bring about change places a duty on scientists to proceed with great caution both in what they do and what they say. Scientists should reflect on the social consequences of the technological applications or dissemination of partial information of their work and explain to the public and policy makers alike the degree of scientific uncertainty or incompleteness in their findings. At the same time, though, they should not hesitate to fully exploit the predictive power of science, duly qualified, to help people cope with environmental change, especially in cases of direct threats like natural disasters or water shortages.
The current trend toward privatization in many countries is influencing the focus and practice of science. While in some instances the net result may be to increase research capacity and knowledge in selected areas, there is major concern that the trend may be undermining public-sector science, especially fundamental research and efforts to solve socially important problems of no interest to commercial enterprises. Patent protection of private intellectual property, for example, makes the job of public research more difficult. There is also concern over the social implications of private ownership and control of technology, and its effect on broad public scientific literacy, and on options for public choice.
Another major trend shaping science is globalization. The end of the Cold War, growing technology demand from emerging economies, world recognition of the interconnectedness of the planets biophysical systems and improved communications, especially via the Internet -- all these forces are boosting cross-border scientific cooperation and information exchange between individual researchers, institutions and governments. However, much of the expansion is occurring in just a handful of scientifically advanced countries. For science to be truly global, more effort is needed to ensure all countries, rich and poor, and a wide range of world cultures are included in collaborative research and technology transfer. This is especially important in areas like global climate change which will affect, sooner or later, all human beings. With the right policies in place, joint scientific work in critical areas such as the Arctic, for example, could serve as a model for other types of global cooperation.
A major challenge for global science is to find institutional arrangements conducive to success. The proliferation of international networks and programs, the so-called "acronym jungle", reflects a rather ad hoc approach, necessitated in part by the narrowness of purposes of established scientific institutions and the lack of strategic, integrated support by national governments in areas like global change or international aid. What is needed is the formation of true international partnerships that allow scientists in different disciplines and countries to fully support each others aims and share resources and management duties to mutual advantage.
promote multidisciplinary approaches to research, encourage cooperation between the social and natural sciences, and draw lessons from the humanities, local knowledge systems and aboriginal wisdom;
encourage a holistic approach to problem solving that takes into account a realistic range of socioeconomic conditions and effects, as well as multiple time and space scales, where appropriate;
carefully explain the implications and the inherent limitations of their research findings to the public;
fully exploit the predictive power of science to serve social needs with candid awareness of the limitations of scientific predictions;
promote the inclusion of scientists from resource-poor countries in international cooperative projects and maximize their access to information and technology;
encourage the creation of science-coordination mechanisms at the highest level of the United Nations, fully involving the governments of all countries, as a way to promote integrated responses to global problems.
Communication and Education
Within the general public, there is certain measure of mistrust and even fear of science and technology (S&T). Some is based on public experience, but much is the consequence of a significant communications gap between scientists and society. Many reasons are advanced for these attitudes: public ignorance or misunderstanding of science, inaccurate or biased media coverage, uneven distribution of the costs and benefits of science among different sub-groups in society, lack of public control over the applications of S&T, and the inability of some scientists to communicate ideas in plain language. The issue of nuclear waste disposal is one example of how the gap between scientific findings (which, in this case, suggest that safe disposal technologies exist that are at least as safe as other industrial risks accepted by society) and public opinion and behaviour (continuing opposition to the use of such technologies) may sometimes appear intractable, that is, not amenable to solution simply through improved communication or further technical research.
Good scientific communication via the mass media is especially important in those areas directly and strongly affecting peoples lives for example, before, during and after natural disasters such as storms, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, as well as in the general area of global change or depletion of natural resources. In communicating their ideas, scientists should make clear the limitations of their predictions and other pronouncements. But they should not shy away from public pronouncements just because their messages contradict public wishes or expectations; indeed, they should be prepared for negative reactions in those instances, and carefully explain the basis for their scientific conclusions or opinions.
Apart from communication by the mass media which is largely unidirectional, communication in the sense of an ongoing dialogue between scientists, the public, and policy-makers is also important. This may take many forms: public policy consultations and review committees, science fairs, open houses, and public information services provided by universities, research institutes and private companies. As the demand for transparency and accountability in science grows, communication of this type as well as public participation in decision making about the applications of S&T becomes imperative. Unfortunately, resources for such dialogue are lacking not only among scientific institutions but among those groups in society who have a particular stake in scientific developments and therefore something to gain through contact with scientists. Increasing privitization of scientific activity also discourages open communication of scientific findings and uncertainties.
Science education, particularly training in multidisciplinary and team approaches to research, is also in need of reinforcement. Many science education programs still focus on individual student assignments and individual evaluation, whereas the trend in both the public and private sector is toward team work, and the needs of society are increasingly met by the concerted efforts of many areas of investigation. Science, if it is to appeal strongly to youth, also needs to be demystified by educators that is, presented in an attractive, stimulating fashion, with the abstractions of theory strongly linked to everyday life.
Furthermore, students need to be more fully involved in public discussion of science and its applications. Not only are they the ones who will be most affected by the current direction of science, they are also the scientists and policy makers of tomorrow.
Recommendationshe quality of science journalism, the mass media should engage more journalists with scientific training. At the same time, the mass media and specialized educators should be enlisted to help train scientists or their spokespersons in the fundamentals of public communication and to familiarize them with the expectations and operating parameters of the mass media.
The concept of scientific clearing houses services to help journalists interpret scientific data, decipher technical language, and distinguish scientifically credible claims from unsubstantiated ones should be promoted. UNESCO national commissions should also consider setting up scientific information services aimed at improving the quality and quantity of science stories in the media and ensuring that differing viewpoints are presented.
Science community partnerships -- for example, between research institutes, private firms, the media, and governments are an effective and practical way to share the costs of communicating science to the public. These should be encouraged.
Educational authorities should encourage teamwork training and multidisciplinary approaches to science education. They should also attempt to demystify science to make it attractive to a larger proportion of students. University and private-sector experience with team-oriented research should be documented and analyzed with a view to identifying the best current practices in North America.
Science in the developing world differs from that in the industrialized world in three main ways: budgets are much smaller, research agendas are different because the socioeconomic and biophysical problems to be solved are different, and there is a lower level of access to and public understanding of scientific information and technology. The North-South knowledge gap is viewed by some as the most pressing social and economic aspects of modern science.
Many developing countries have well-qualified scientists but often they are few in number and lack the resources and political support needed to solve complex problems or to apply their knowledge to national issues. In Mexico, where agriculture remains an important part of the national economy, scientific work related to food production and food security is complicated by a web of social problems such as rural poverty, social discrimination against peasants, migration to cities because of changes in land use, weak transportation and marketing services, and lack of farmer access to credit. In the area of health, too, the problems of developing countries are much different than those of developed countries. Chagas Disease and schistosomiasis, for example, are endemic in many developing nations, yet they receive very little attention by health scientists and pharmaceutical firms in industrialized countries.
While there are number of North-South cooperative programs to support science in developing countries and improve technology transfer, much more should be done. Water management, tropical disease research, and energy-efficiency technology were identified as areas where the current co-operative programs are weak, but in which the industrialized countries can provide valuable assistance to developing countries.
In the case of international research on large-scale problems like global change, most developing countries are unable to contribute to those scientific components requiring sophisticated research facilities and technologies. However, there are other effective but inexpensive ways for them to participate, such as regional monitoring and carrying out studies of local conditions and effects. It was suggested, for example, that Mexico could contribute to research on climate change by carrying out, at very low cost, epidemiological studies of a possible link between urban air quality and recently observed seasonal increases in cardiovascular disease and pregnancy-related hypertension. ICSU has an important role in ensuring that developing countries are involved in global change studies on imaginative but affordable and practical ways.
Another symptom of the North-South science gap is the inequitable distribution of profits generated by new technologies and products based on plant genetic resources obtained from developing countries.
RecommendationsEfforts should be stepped up to give developing countries better access to scientific expertise, information and technology, especially in the areas of disaster relief, health, energy, and water management. In particular, the scientific and technical know-how of military organizations should be harnessed to monitor and alleviate the effects of disasters around the world.
Measures are needed to systematically involve all countries in research on global change. Developing countries scientific knowledge of local conditions and effects should be harnessed in the worldwide effort to understand, predict and adapt to global change and the growing understanding of changes in climate, water, and soil incorporated in international assistance programmes.
Countries and communities should be fairly compensated for their contribution of plant genetic resources that lead to commercially profitable technologies.
As a priority, science should address the basic needs of the sick and disadvantaged in the poorest countries.
Economics versus Sustainable Development
Science today seems caught in a cross-fire between two opposing world views. On the one hand, science is a major tool of the ideology currently driving the world economy, namely that of the free market system, continual growth and the pursuit of personal wealth. On the other hand, science is increasingly being called on to produce knowledge and technology that promote environmentally sustainable, people-oriented development and long-term management of resources.
The world economy continues to rely heavily on cheap oil, a non-renewable resource and major contributor of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels - oil, coal, natural gas - will continue to power world industry for several decades. The fact that they will do so despite the availability of technically feasible alternative "green" energy technologies, brings the dilemma into sharp relief. Examples of the conflict between current economic forces and the need for sustainable development can be found in many other domains as well. The imposition of structural adjustment policies by international financial institutions, for example, has forced some countries to reorient agricultural research and production to focus on cash crops that generate foreign currency rather than food crops for local consumption. In some cases, such policies have put food security and the continued production of the land in jeopardy, created enormous personal hardship for citizens, and led to social unrest.
Free trade arrangements, too, may pose a threat to some of the underlying components of sustainable development, affecting biodiversity, community self-reliance, and local knowledge systems. In some cases, the elimination of trade barriers between countries has led farmers to abandon the cultivation of traditional crop varieties that were well adapted to local conditions and tastes, in favour of imported varieties that may respond better to newly expanded markets.
Deregulation and privatization are two trends aimed at improving commercial competitiveness, and stimulating economic growth. Yet in some sectors such as energy production and food it is becoming clear that these trends cannot be reconciled with the requirement imposed by sustainable development that hidden environmental and social costs of economic production that is, costs bourne by present or future society but not normally reflected in prices of goods and services like energy, be taken into account.
In the past, developments in the energy field have had more to do with the protection of vested economic interests than with concern for the public good or environmental conservation. The prospect of that approach being perpetuated is a major concern for the future of energy science, since fossil fuels are a finite resource and a major contributor of greenhouse gases, and research or energy alternatives is handicapped.
RecommendationsPolicy makers must accept that, for certain key areas like energy development, decisions must not be based only on political expediency such as the prospect of short-term economic benefits and job creation. To do so denigrates the role of forward-thinking research and development (R&D) and undermines long-term social development. Rather, what is needed is a vision of the world that looks "seven generations" ahead, in the manner of the holistic philosophies of North American aboriginal people.
Public debate on the dangers of "consumptive" lifestyles typical of the industrialized countries, needs to be reactivated. If everyone on the planet lived as many North Americans do, we would need the resources of "seven Planet Earths". As this is clearly impossible, the implications of inevitable major changes soon to come should be openly discussed at all levels of society.
Scientists need to cultivate a new vision of science one that promotes the development of sustainable "closed" systems of production and consumption, which are compatible with the recycling behaviour and equilibrium of natural systems.
Agencies that provide research grants should be broader in their terms of reference and more neutral and flexible so that scientists are not continually pushed to find short-term solutions when long-term ones are needed. In some countries, the allocation of research funds is controlled by small powerful groups who engage in favouritism for their own personal gain or prestige. Governments should ensure that systems for evaluating and funding project proposals are fair, objective, and transparent.
Science Policy and Ethics
Scientific advances are never, in themselves, a guarantee of social benefit. Technology has to be treated as a servant of society, not a master. Increasing commercial productivity, while at the same time necessary, unemployment and poverty is not a socially acceptable solution. Science must be fully integrated with broad societal needs, but this tenet is not yet fully accepted. One reason for public mistrust of science is that ordinary people feel they will sometimes end up being the ones to suffer the costs of technological innovation. It was suggested repeatedly at the North American meeting that the time has come to introduce an international code of ethical conduct for scientists to ensure that science is directed for the public good.
Scientists in their daily work are sometimes isolated from mainstream society, making it difficult for them to be clearly aware of public needs. Conversely, policy makers, in need of sometimes urgent advice on technical matters, sometimes urgent, may be unaware of the scientific expertise residing under their very noses. Society has much to gain by the proactive involvement of scientists in policy making.
Medical biotechnology is a leading-edge area of science in which the pace of progress is perhaps faster than societys capacity to deal with the ethical and social implications. Genetic research, while offering major benefits for disease diagnosis and treatment, also poses serious questions about the nature and sanctity of human life and the protection of human rights. The possibility that genetic technology could be commandeered by powerful groups to pursue goals in their own interests but which may be socially destructive or discriminatory is not to be considered lightly. It is an issue of particular importance to disabled persons. Greater dialogue between scientists, policy makers and the public, especially those groups disproportionately affected by technological developments, is clearly needed.
A major concern is that recent advances in health sciences will lead to the "genetification of medicine", that is, a trend toward understanding and explaining human beings and human health largely in terms of genes and their interactions. A worry here is that the role of environmental and social factors will increasingly receive insufficient attention, leading to a one-dimensional view of diseases and disabilities.
A further ethical issue for science is what has been referred to as the "commodification" of basic human needs such as food, shelter, clothing, fuel and health services. In many countries, many of these items have traditionally been supplied through non-monetary social support structures, often family-based. As cash economies and government welfare programmes increasingly treat these necessities of life simply as commodities to be bought and sold, there is a serious risk that technological innovations, stimulated by scientists working within a commercial framework, will be exploited mainly by well-to-do minorities, with little or no benefit to the poor. The potential of science to improve human social conditions in non-material ways needs much more attention.
RecommendationsThe gaining of scientific knowledge must not be assumed to lead automatically to direct commercial policy exploitation of that knowledge. Often the knowledge is of greatest benefit if it increases public understanding and awareness. Scientists cannot always control the application of their findings. However, they have a responsibility to engage in public dialogue about the implications of scientific findings and to help distinguish between socially beneficial and socially harmful applications.
Action is needed at the international level to protect the human species from human-induced genetic alteration and to ensure that technological applications in the fields of human genetics are ethically and socially sound. Review committees at the institutional and national levels, such as those that examine and appraise research projects, can help focus attention on key ethical and safety issues. However, stronger and higher-level mechanisms for decision-making and enforcement in this area of science are also needed. UNESCO has an important role to play in this regard.
Scientists should be more proactive in policy making. This could be done by promoting, among governments around the world, the concept of "science/policy contracts". These agreements would recognize the value of scientific advice, but also make clear that such advice is but one ingredient in decision-making and not necessarily the overriding one. Such contracts should set clear performance standards by which the inputs of scientists can be evaluated.
The world scientific community should consider adopting an international code of ethical conduct for scientists, similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians. This code would apply a similar principle of measurability to scientific behaviour that scientists so cherish in their day-to-day pursuit of knowledge.
(In a commentary subsequent to the workshop, one participant suggested that the Engineers Pledge, which undoubtedly has influenced the ethical conduct of professional engineers in several countries, could also be a model for principles of conduct of science in general, adapted to express consideration for all of humankind, ecological integrity, and long-term consequences).
Integrating Issues - Science and Society
Advances in science and its resulting technologies, such as global communication, satellite images of Earth, together with the popular fascination with dinosaurs etc., have irrevocably expanded the space and time scales with which people at many levels of society now view their world. Science is largely responsible for a growing public awareness that people share the planet with all other living creatures, that the environment which supports all life is subject to change, and that human activities are presently changing this environment and threaten to change it seriously. In the past two centuries, science has been used mainly as a tool for economic expansion and military power for the wealthier segments of the human race. It is now clear that the current consumption of natural resources and increasing stresses on the regional and local environment cannot continue indefinitely without breakdown of the natural support systems that make present civilizations possible. Science, which helped to bring about this situation, now has an over-riding responsibility to help societies make a transition from an obsession with growth to achievement of a dynamically stable and sustainable ecological and economic system. In this transition, an alliance between modern technical science and the holistic wisdom from indigenous societies and philosophers from all cultures can be very important.
In the coming century, the rate of change of natural and human conditions and issues can be expected to continue to accelerate. Scientists have an increasing obligation to become involved with policy-makers and the public in finding and implementing solutions or means of adaptation to issues that are both local and world-wide, such as reconciling the present competitive profit motive with the common good; providing for contributions from and benefits to marginalized elements of society and minority cultures; justifying current expenditures to prevent costs or damages to future generations; rewarding collective rather than individual efforts. The role of science in society and governance has never been more important.
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