Future of science: Voices from our partners

This is part of a series of interviews with leaders from international partner organisations. We asked them to weigh in on the importance of our proposed merger with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) for a fast-changing scientific future.

This is the second part of a regular series being published between now and the historic joint meeting of our members in Taipei this October. If agreed, the merger will mark the culmination of several decades of debate about the need for more effective collaboration between the natural and social sciences, and drive new ways of thinking about the role of all the sciences in responding to the complex challenges of the modern world.

The new organisation will be formally launched in 2018. To find out more about the proposed merger visit the gitbook page.

Read part one of the series, “What do you think science is essentially for in the present age, and in the coming 30 years?”, here.

Q: What defines the global context for science today, and what sort of science is urgently needed?

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment (UNEP): Globally, the context for science today is Agenda 2030 or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The science that is needed urgently are the ones that could support the swift transition towards the fourth industrialization that is marked by big data, the digital revolution, robot technologies, green and low-carbon technologies, the circular economy etc.

Irina Bokova, Director General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): The type of interdisciplinary science needed is embodied by concepts such as Complexity Science, Sustainability Science, and by initiatives like Future Earth. They promote scientific research characterised by co-design, co-production and co-evolution principles. Research shall use the input from scientists, communities, indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders, to ensure that the essential knowledge from all relevant disciplines and actor groups is incorporated. In this way, science will transcend simple problem analysis and incorporate values, norms and visions that guide the knowledge production process, and increase legitimacy, ownership, and accountability for the problem and the potential solution through the collaborative efforts between researchers and non-academic stakeholders.

To address bottlenecks at the science-policy interface, the intrinsic interrelation of “Science for Policy” and “Policy for Science” gains critical relevance to generate the full benefits from science. Countries require science advice for policy-making, and effective policy instruments to steer development, which in turn influences the science advice process. Therefore, it is paramount to put in place Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) systems that acknowledge the interactive and evolutive nature of science, with policies focused not only on the science infrastructure, but also on institutions and organizations supporting broader individual, organizational and inter-organizational learning processes.

Guido Schmidt- Traub, Executive Director of UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network: Today the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement provide the context for science. They are an invitation for science to frame bold research questions and to address them. A central challenge here will be to foster greater international collaboration of scientists.

Mohamed Hassan, Founding Executive Director of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS): The global context for science is defined by two key ideas: interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary science, and international networks and partnerships. To address the SDGs and advance sustainable prosperity, we have to cross borders and break down silos.

The food-water-energy nexus is an obvious example, but we cannot overstate its importance. All three are in short supply. All three must be produced and used sustainably. We need water and energy to produce enough food for 10 billion people. We need science to improve the efficient production of food and energy, in a way that preserves water resources. We also see the importance of interdisciplinary science in areas such as nanotechnology, biomedical technology, space technology and the Internet of Things, all of which should achieve significant innovations in the years ahead.

International partnerships are absolutely essential to progress. Consider the food-water-energy nexus: If we want to understand how that works in East Africa, or in the dryland areas of the Arab region, we need local knowledge and local research expertise, or regional knowledge and research expertise. But that knowledge can be developed and utilised in partnership with other experts from outside those regions. When scientists from the North and South work together, they learn from each other and develop together.

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC): Like many other areas of society, science needs to navigate in a more diverse environment when it comes to financing, recruiting talent, partnerships and not least dialogue with stakeholders and the general public. In this context, we all need to embrace diversity. From my experience what is most urgent is securing funding for basic scientific research in this era of globalisation and more diverse societies. Opportunities for collaboration and non-public funding tend to increase in many societies, and that normally supports applied research.

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida): The global context for science is defined by inequality in all its dimensions: access, resources, gender, relations and geographical representation; and by the gap between knowledge and action.

What’s urgently needed is  science that is locally determined, globally engaged and beneficial for humanity: Science that’s produced in, by and for all countries.

InterAcademy Partnership (IAP): The global context for science is characterized by: (a) accelerating globalization of capability and activities; (b) the increasingly central contribution of information technology and the manipulation of digital data to progress across most fields and disciplines; (c) the growing complexity of scientific research efforts in terms of scope, scale and interdisciplinarity enabled by (a) and (b); and (d) the increasing relevance of many scientific efforts and discoveries to a variety of policy issues as well as to application and commercialization efforts.

Certainly, science that contributes to the purposes and goals outlined in the answer to question 1  are urgently needed. Science, research and development that continue to cater to the perceived needs of people in high-income countries at the expense of making their benefits available to the millions still living in poverty is not equitable and just. It will also be necessary for the global research enterprise to ensure maximal inclusivity in the range of scientific activities as well as at relevant interfaces, e.g. with policymakers. Scientists and budding scientists in the developing world, women scientists, and scientists from underrepresented groups must not be left behind, but should be included as partners in multiple forms of engagement.

In addition, some of the core practices and institutions of science emerged and were codified in the environment of their time and may not be suited to the scientific environment that is emerging today. In order to deliver on its promise and potential, the global research enterprise must re-examine and strengthen its institutions and practices with the aim of ensuring greater rigour and integrity.

The global research enterprise will continue to earn the trust of global society and demonstrate the value of significant investments of resources in science through greater transparency and accountability. The global research enterprise also needs to take a leadership role in preventing the misuse of science and participating in societal discussions over ethical issues raised by some new technologies and areas of research.

Marlene Kanga, President-Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO): We urgently need science that addresses global problems that are not restricted to national borders. We need to address climate change as a pressing challenge but also related issues of the oceans, loss of species, deforestation and air pollution – all issues that are global.

Chao Gejin, President of the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH): Science is more and more important, and is irreplaceable in today’s global context. We urgently need science to promote peoples’ lives in a larger sense, and diminishing the danger that high-tech weapons pose to our species.

About the respondents

Erik Solheim is head of UN Environment @ErikSolheim

Irina Bokova is Director General of UNESCO @IrinaBokova

Guido Schmidt-Traub is Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network @GSchmidtTraub

Mohamed Hassan is TWAS Founding Executive Director @TWASNews

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka is Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) @CharlottePetriG

InterAcademy Partnership @IAPartnership

Marlene Kanga is President-Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations @WFEO

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) @Sida

Chao Gejin is President of the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH)

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