AAAS President Gilbert Omenn Leads AAAS Group to Forum in Kyoto
AAAS President Gilbert S. Omenn with Koji Omi, member of the Japanese House of Representatives and co-founder of the Kyoto Forum on Science and Technology in Society. Omenn has adopted the casual style recommended by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who advocates that buildings be kept warmer--and that people wear light clothesin summer to help reduce CO2 emissions.
A top-level delegation of AAAS officials, led by President Gilbert S. Omenn, attended the Science and Technology in Society Forum 11-13 September in Kyoto, where S&T leaders from around the world focused on sustainability, capacity-building, security and other crucial issues.
The second annual gathering marked a continuing engagement between AAAS and the forum's organizers, who are seeking to promote a discussion of complex ethical, educational, economic and environmental issues involving science, business and political leaders from developing and developed nations. This year's forum featured a dramatic visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as Japanese voters were going to the polls that Sunday.
In all, the STS Forum brought together some 550 global opinion leaders. Joining Omenn were AAAS Chief International Officer Shere Abbott and Norman Neureiter, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.
"The STS Forum demonstrated the confidence with which leaders of 68 nations expect science and technology to stimulate international cooperation in sustainability, better health, global security, and economic growth," Omenn said. "As in our AAAS annual meetings, pervasive themes were the need for concerted efforts to enhance public understanding of science and appreciation of the risks, as well as benefits, of technologies."
In remarks to open the forum, Japanese Crown Prince Hironmiya Naruhito noted that the rapid scientific and technological advances of recent decades have "raised some basic questions, such as whether the fruits of innovation have been shared fairly amongst all groups of people, whether the development of science and technology can be harmonized with nature, or whether science and technology should be allowed to develop simply because they seem to have infinite potential.
"We all know that there can be no simple, uncomplicated answers to any of these questions," the Crown Prince said. "However, the cost of failing to seek answers to these questions is too great to countenance, as the very survival of the human race could be endangered."
Koizumi delivered his opening remarks in shirtsleeves, characteristic of his commitment to lowering CO2 emissions by encouraging higher building temperatures in summer months. He acknowledged that "protecting our beautiful environment comes at a cost." And "while there are many people who think that efforts to protect the environment would hold back the progress of economic development," he said, "this is not the case. Environmental protection and economic development are mutually achievable and sustainable. It is science and technology that hold the key to achieving the dual goals."
(That evening, when the Japanese polls closed, Koizumi and his party had been re-elected in a landslide.)
AAAS has had a productive relationship with organizers of the Science and Technology in Society Forum. In 2004, AAAS officials worked with Koji Omi, a member of Japan's House of Representatives and founding member of the STS Forum, to develop the program. Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science attended the inaugural gathering in 2004, chairing a session on "Science and Technology: The Central Role in National Strategies."
This year, Omenn chaired the session on "Capacity Building: Science Education and Communication."
"The inquiry-based, hands-on approach of the AAAS Project 2061 and its landmark report 'Science for All Americans' were applauded by participants from several countries who have mounted similar initiatives to elicit and retain student interest in learning about science, math, and scientific ways of thinking," Omenn said. "We have plenty to learn from others, as was noted at the UNESCO conference on models for systemic reform of science education in June 2004."
Science communication and other issues on the STS Forum agenda closely paralleled AAAS's interests in science education, the S&T workforce, sustainability and security.
"So we have the machinery for working with other participants in between STS forum meetings toward influencing the policies that guide science and innovation, promoting the positive advances of S&T and ensuring their benefits reach everyone," Abbott said.
Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, said the impact of the current communications revolution could parallel that of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. But while it promises great hope, it also creates risks, he said. Some people might be rich in information but poor in values, he said; others, overwhelmed by information and change, might be vulnerable to the lure of simplistic answers to complex problems.
"We must be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that the computerwhich more and more, serves as the link between us all in this globalizing worldcan somehow provide an organizing moral framework, for it cannot," Gregorian said. "In that context it cannot, for example, tell us what questions are worth asking. Such moral questions are especially important now, when info-glut makes it so much harder to integrate knowledge and give coherence to life. This is a difficult task, but one that generation after generation has taken on as both noble and necessary: throughout history, humanity has craved for meaning, coherence and wholeness."
During closing remarks at the Forum, Omenn cited an Internet resource for public health and epidemiologythe Supercourseas addressing such Forum themes as global communication, North/South cooperation, health improvement, and prevention and mitigation of disasters. Some 2,300 lectures now have been collected, with millions of downloads by 300,000 people in 151 countries. Ismail Serageldin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandria and a Forum co-founder, added that Arabic translations of these lectures were being accessed throughout Islamic countries.
Omi, the STS founding member and former Japanese minister of state for science and technology, reminded those at the forum that scientists and scientific organizations will not be able to solve the challenges alone.
The challenges "require worldwide cooperation," Omi said, "because many of the problems that arise must be tackled by revising social systems, promoting international collaboration and creating common rules…. Although these issues are not so easy to solve in the short term, we need to think of them seriously so that we can ultimately establish harmonious coexistence with the universe."
Neureiter said that the Science and Technology in Society Forum may prove to be an important center for global problem-solving. "Only with a few more years of successful meetings will we know whether such a meeting can continue to attract the level of decision-makers that can make a difference in using the Forum as an instrument for catalyzing, even driving, needed changes in global S&T policy," he said. "Certainly, with Minister Omi's convening powers and the breadth of his thinking and organizational acumen in staging this major event, the STS Forum is off to a very solid start."
A statement issued at the close of the Forum is available here.
Edward W. Lempinen
26 September 2005