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World Science Forum Participants Urge Collaboration Between Scientists and Policymakers

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Participants from more than 100 countries convened at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest for the World Science Forum. | Michaela Jarvis

Speakers at the World Science Forum (WSF) representing the wide-ranging viewpoints of government, nongovernmental organizations, industry, and the research community converged on one urgently expressed theme: a call for increased scientific input as international collaboration moves forward on such critical matters as sustainable development and global climate change.

The Forum took place 4-7 November in Budapest, Hungary, about one month after passage of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and one month before the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) will attempt to pass the first legally binding climate agreement to limit global warming at 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

"We come to Budapest with an important mission," said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences Flavia Schlegel at the WSF opening ceremony, "to explain what science can do to fully realize" the 17 goals — ranging from addressing climate change, to ending hunger, to working toward responsible consumption and production — laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. "Science, technology, innovation, and engineering have a crucial role to play."

Forum participants from more than 100 countries took many different approaches to examining the question of how scientists can most effectively help solve the problems facing the planet, a question AAAS Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt took up in his opening ceremony speech.

"I think everyone here understands the power of science to improve health, economic development, agriculture, and the well-being of people," said Holt, who is also the executive publisher of the Science family of journals. "We also understand that we can do a better job in a number of areas, including providing good science advice to governments, educating people about science to help them understand and appreciate science and use evidence-based thinking, and advocating for high standards, integrity, and best practices in the science enterprise."

Holt, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years, brought his dual experience as a scientist and lawmaker to a number of discussions focused on the difficult question of how scientists can best help to inform policy.

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Rush Holt (l) and Alan I. Leshner | WSF-SCIFORUM.HU/MTA.HU

"Do not attempt to give science advice from above. Policymakers understand that science advice is not a substitute for politics," Holt said. "Scientists have to work more at being able to communicate good advice, not the details of the science, but the source of science's authority, which is that it is evidence-based."

Holt and others in Budapest also emphasized that researchers in the "hard" sciences need to collaborate with researchers in the social sciences to contribute to dialogue around problems facing human beings, where individual decisions regarding issues such as energy use can have a significant effect on outcomes.

This consideration of the social sciences — and humanities — is crucial, said Vladimír Šucha, director-general of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

"If we're talking about science-to-policy interaction, we're talking about making policy for society," said Šucha. "The main agent in a society is people. Only experts in the humanities and social sciences are able to capture how people are reacting to the policy."

As the science community considers its role in helping to alleviate the interconnected problems facing the planet, participants at the WSF explored not only optimizing the exchange between scientists and policymakers, but also ways to support the quality of science work itself, today and in the future. Speakers and participants discussed such issues as the preparation of young scientists with training suitable to global challenges, the inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities to gather insights and innovations that might otherwise be missed, supporting scientists everywhere throughout the world, and ensuring that scientists can do science in a globally connected way without serious obstacles due to differences in standards or ethics.

Presenters proposed changes in science education as a means to increase the number of young people around the world who pursue science careers, to foster innovation, and to provide skills geared to help meet the goals set out in the UN sustainability agenda. "Are we really educating our students to deal with any of these goals?" asked Professor Anette Kolmos of the Aalborg Centre for Problem Based Learning in Engineering Science and Sustainability in Denmark. "We need to connect the disciplines to the context," Kolmos added, by incorporating more cross-disciplinary approaches, problem-solving, teamwork, and critical reflection than is normally included in traditional science education.

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László Lovász, Vladimír Šucha, Sorena Sattari, and Hayat Sindi| WSF-SCIFORUM.HU/MTA.HU and Michaela Jarvis

Hayat Sindi, founder of the i2 Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity in Saudi Arabia, said she thinks many students in the Middle East, particularly women, stop taking science courses at the introductory level because science and science education are not adequately attuned to social needs. "The antidote for this globalized world is seeking scientific leaders with collaborative values — often enthused about by women — to make life more balanced, to make science more human," Sindi said. "Helping to unite families and strengthen communities so we can properly use the power of science. Currently we are far from this ideal, especially with women's voices in science not coming through."

Referring to a part of a declaration composed at the WSF calling for increased collaboration and scientific training in the developing world, Hungarian Academy of Sciences President László Lovász said, "We believe there is a lot of neglected talent, outstanding scientists, geniuses. International collaboration should do everything it can to do research and innovation in the developing world."

"We are serious in improving the efficiency of our scientific and research efforts through international collaborations," said Iranian Vice-President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari during a session on the challenges of global cooperation, which was moderated by former AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner. "We are ready for more effective participation in discovering innovative solutions for global problems."

Sattari described Iran as transitioning from a "traditional and resource-based economy toward a knowledge-based economy," through education and the expansion of research facilities such as the upcoming Iranian National Observatory and Iranian Light Source Facility synchrotron project.

In discussing what global cooperation can do for science, WSF speakers also pointed out what science can do for global cooperation. They presented historical examples of scientists helping to bring nations together dating back to the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, which was established in 1954 after World War II, and, more recently, SESAME, a major research project in the Middle East that involves scientists from nations still engaged in conflict.

"We think these types of interactions are crucial," said Vaughan Turekian, a former chief international officer at AAAS, who is currently science and technology adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State. "Science can help build bridges and build peace."

In explaining the increasingly important role that the science community will play in determining the progress of international efforts toward sustainable development and climate stability, Lovász pointed out that the majestically ornate Hungarian Academy of Sciences neo-Renaissance palace in which the WSF was held was built entirely with public donations 150 years ago, "which illustrates the trust that Hungarian society from the nobility to poor farmworkers had in science at that time."

"This trust underscores the responsibility we have for the future," said Lovász, "to resolve difficult and pressing issues that society faces worldwide."