2.1 Science in an evolving global context
The priorities and practices of science are determined both by the internal dynamics of scientific inquiry and by contemporary socio-political contexts. Both are increasingly shaped by two fundamental concerns:
The imperative to help solve global problems
Major contemporary challenges confronting humanity have global impacts that demand global responses that almost invariably require strong engagement from the world of science. As the range of challenges embedded in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development shows, these problems are often highly coupled and profoundly complex. Scientists are increasingly expected not only to advance scientific understanding of their nature, but also to make decisive contributions to solving them. The pressure on science is to produce “actionable” knowledge that responds to the needs and expectations of society and that supports transformative societal responses to challenges of the present and foreseeable future.
The need to defend the inherent value of scientific enquiry and interpretation
A new digital world is providing unprecedented levels of global connectivity that has powerful implications for the relationships between citizens, the media, elected representatives, interest groups and experts, and more broadly, between science and society. The ubiquitous use of software tools and social media enable the democratization of the processes whereby knowledge and information are generated and used. For science, this digital world offers great opportunities to reach new audiences. But it also drives a “post-expert” dynamic in which people regard access to information as obviating the need for scientific interpretation. It enables the spread of misinformation and its growing use as an agent of political activism, strategy and policy-making. Reduced trust in institutions, accusations of elitism, and broader trends towards populist politics all pose fundamental challenges to the value of deliberative scientific enquiry. Although scientists still enjoy high levels of public trust in many parts of the world, these developments change political dynamics in ways that make it harder for the scientific voice to be heard.
These are not new trends, but they are intensifying. They are the enduring consequences of ongoing changes that are technological, social and cultural in nature. They create a context in which there is a distinctive need for international collective action to:
Enable science for the future
by securing its practical relevance to complex global problems that no one country and no one discipline can address on its own. This will
require strengthened international scientific collaboration that harnesses scientific perspectives and expertise from all parts of the world. It will require a strengthened integration of knowledge through enhanced inter-disciplinary collaboration, involving the joint framing of issues and the collaborative design, execution and application of research across different fields of science. And it will require new ways of working in the trans-disciplinary mode of engaging decision-makers, policy-shapers and practitioners, as well as actors from civil society and the private sector, as partners in the co-design and co-production of solutions-oriented knowledge.
Secure the future of science
by advocating the inherent value and values of all science – from fundamental to stakeholder-engaged science – to society. This includes effectively communicating scientific knowledge in relation to a wide range of contemporary issues. It means promoting continued support for focused disciplinary enquiry and
unfettered scientific curiosity. It also means championing investment in scientific education, research and development, particularly in the Least Developed Countries
(LDCs) of the world.