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Improved Global S&T Collaboration Urged at World Science Forum

With the global scientific enterprise confronted by budget pressures and human challenges, nations must work to align their science values and standards to improve international collaboration, the CEO of AAAS said earlier this week.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary—With the global scientific enterprise confronted by budget pressures and human challenges, nations must work to align their science values and standards to improve international collaboration, AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner said at the opening of the 2011 World Science Forum.

Speaking from the ornate Ceremonial Hall at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS), Leshner urged an audience of some 500 world science and science policy leaders to “bring the full resources of a global scientific community, functioning in a truly global way, to bear” on issues ranging from health and energy to disaster-response and economic development.

“The only way to do that,” Leshner said, “is to strengthen or bolster the coherence and compatibility of science communities across the world so the various national communities can work together easily and with great confidence.

“This will work best if we can find a way to align the policies that surround the ways to conduct science, including finding ways that foster easy collaboration and the mobility of both people and money. We also need to be sure that ethical values and standards within scientific communities are consistent around the world.”

Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science, was among a select group to address the Forum’s opening session. He joined Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán; HAS President József Pálinkás; UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova; Nobel laureate Yuan Tseh Lee, president of the International Council for Science (ICSU); and Dominique Ristori, director-general of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent video remarks, as did Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov aboard the International Space Station.

The international cast of the opening session underscored the importance that each of the speakers placed on forging new networks and advancing science diplomacy. Leshner used the occasion to announce that AAAS will in early 2012 introduce a new quarterly publication, Science and Diplomacy, to support a stronger dialogue between those two fields.

The World Science Forum was developed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in partnership with UNESCO, ICSU and AAAS, and was first convened in Budapest in 2003. Since then it has been held biannually in Budapest. The fifth Forum was held 16-19 November, with the theme “The Changing Landscape of Science: Challenges and Opportunities.”

While Forum speakers represented different nations and organizations, many struck a common theme: In a time of challenge and crisis, scientists and engineers have an obligation to work for solutions that will benefit all people. Science is not merely the realm of scientists, they said, but a realm where engaging the public—and listening to the public—is critically important.

That places a premium on science education and science communication, Leshner said in an informal meeting with reporters before the Forum’s opening ceremony.

“Given that every issue of modern life has a science and technology component to it, either as a cause or as a cure, it’s incredibly important that the general public has a fundamental comfort and a fundamental understanding of what is and isn’t science and what areas of science might be important for their lives,” he said.

The reception was sponsored by the Brussels-based communications firm, SciCom—Making Sense of Science, and was attended by board members from the World Federation of Science Journalists.

At the Forum’s opening session, speakers stressed the power of science and technology to change history by changing people’s lives.

Ban saw the impact during his own childhood in Korea. “I studied by candlelight or kerosene lamp,” he said in his videotaped remarks. “We had no indoor plumbing. We did all of our farming by hand. Science helped to change that.... But too much of the world remains cut off from scientific advances.”

Orbán, in an address that opened the Forum, described first-hand experience in the transformative power of science.

“Especially here in Central Europe, we firmly believe in the answers you scientists can offer to our problems,” he said. “The reason is very simple. We believe that the Soviet Union and its dictatorial satellite regimes were by no means defeated by armed fighting. Rather, it was the quick technological changes of the last two or three decades of the 20th century that did it...

“Computers, mobile phones, and their technological extensions have dealt a bigger blow to Central European dictatorships that anyone would have previously imagined. This is why we believe that scientific findings are useful and have a beneficial effect upon our lives.”

In the present, however, serious budget and economic issues put science and research at risk. It appears likely that the U.S. government will reduce its funding of research and development as elected officials work to solve historic budget deficits, Leshner said.

“Assuming these problems face other countries,” he said, “it will be a great challenge to the organization and function of the global scientific community.”

Economic problems could compromise efforts to address global challenges such as climate change and the pressures of a growing population, speakers said. And that makes international cooperation and collaboration even more important in research, education, the support of women in science, among other areas. That, in turn, creates a more critical role than ever before for science diplomacy, they said.

“Present-day science should always bear in view that the only way to defeat crises is through joint scientific activities and international cooperation,” cosmonaut Volkov said in his transmission from the orbiting spacecraft.

“Our activities on the International Space Station set a pattern for such cooperation, because a project like this could never have been accomplished by a single state. In the 21st century, [which is] marked by numerous challenges, science remains the only power capable of turning our world into a coherent place ruled by principles of solidarity and democracy.”

“Science diplomacy lies at the heart of our project to build a more just and equitable world,” added Bokova. “Scientific research is becoming more collaborative, with many partnerships, transcending organizational and national borders. The center of gravity is shifting. The past dominance of... the European Union, Japan, and the United States is giving way to a multipolar world.”

That gives rise to both increasing competition and “healthy cooperation,” she said.

The Forum itself, Pálinkás said in his remarks, represents science diplomacy in action. It is “a science-diplomatic event concerned with global and national policies in order to link social demands to policy-making,” he said. “It's a reference point for the shapers of science, society, and politics.”

The drive to expand science diplomacy and to discover its applications requires new efforts to create links between the scientific and foreign policy communities. That’s the chief aim of the AAAS and its Center for Science Diplomacy in developing the new publication.

Science and Diplomacy will be a free, online publication intended “to bring together the two communities in concrete ways,” Leshner explained. “Although these communities often speak different languages and pursue somewhat different goals, they share a global perspective. And there is much more that we can do for each other than we’re doing now.”

To enhance the development of international S&T networks, the World Science Forum will be making a significant change for its next meeting in 2013, said HAS President Pálinkás, who also serves at the Forum’s president. While the first five fora have been held in Budapest, the next event will be in Brazil. And in years to come, the site will alternate between Budapest and another location.