Last month I had the privilege of attending the World Science Forum held at the Dead Sea in Jordan with the theme of Science for Peace. It was a remarkable four day gathering of 3000 invited scientists, policy makers, academics and thought leaders from all around the world seeking to use the universal language of science as a unifying force to bridge political, religious and cultural divides to promote global peace.
In case you are thinking that being a SCIENCE forum the focus would have been on the latest cool technology – not so. There was certainly some of that, for example the three astronauts on the International Space Station were part of the opening ceremony with a special message for us, as was Pepper the humanoid robot who gave a rather inspirational speech. But the real focus was on science diplomacy and its role in creating a future that is worthy of our human spirit.
HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, the President of the Royal Scientific Society, Jordan and a driving force in bringing the event to Jordan put it like this –
“As we meet at the lowest point on earth we must set ourselves the highest goal for our future – to achieve a global peace that is built upon science innovation and inclusiveness. Knowledge is the key to our future. Like so many smaller nations we Jordanians are eager to earn our place in a renewed global consciousness of compassion and creativity.”
The amount of information was overwhelming – so I have distilled it into five overarching key messages.
- The definition of peace is not simply the absence of conflict but more broadly …. security. Security from hunger, joblessness, gender inequality, ethnic chauvinism and conflict, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised people of our world.
When it comes to food security, we live in a world of paradox. More people today die from over eating than from starvation. Eight hundred million people on our planet are under nourished while two billion people are obese; and while we have those eight hundred million without sufficient food, at the same time 25%–30% of all food produced is wasted. Given that by 2050 there will be 10 billion people on the planet, it is essential that scientists and policy makers work together to answer the questions – what to feed the world, at what price and at what environmental cost? Gatherings such as this facilitate global conversations around these issues.
- Science can unify even desperate enemies. Sir Joseph Banks the great British biologist said “The science of two nations can be at peace while their politics may be at war.” A wonderful example of this is a project called SESAME which is the ultimate example of the triumph of science diplomacy. SESAME stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East which is a facility located in Jordan, modelled on CERN. It was officially launched in May of this year and is an autonomous intergovernmental cooperative venture among the nations of Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Pakistan and Turkey developed under the auspices of UNESCO.
- Collaboration and open science is the key to solving the ‘wicked’ problems that face our global community. For example, when the Ebola epidemic of 2014–16 was gripping parts of Africa, the global scientific community got together very quickly to fund and find the first vaccine. And they did it very quickly – about 2 years – which in the world of medical research is very fast. But it was achieved through international collaboration. So if global cooperation can achieve an outcome like this for Ebola, then what could be done about cancer, Alzheimer’s, HIV. Open science, where data and research is freely accessible, is needed for these solutions. We share one earth and share the problems that require us to work together.
Pasteur said “ Science knows no country because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.”
- A multidisciplinary approach is essential for solving complex problems – and not just among the natural sciences but ALL sciences including the social sciences. To this end The International Council for Science has merged with The International Social Science Council to form the International Science Council with the first meeting of the newly formed body taking place in July 2018. This is a recognition that we need physicists, biologists, astronomers, chemists and engineers working alongside psychologists, economists, educators and political and behavioural scientists to provide truly holistic perspectives and solutions.
- Prosperity is driven by science and prosperity promotes peace. We are about to enter the 4th wave of prosperity driven by science. The first wave of the industrial revolution gave us steam engines, locomotion, factories and mass production; the second wave gave us electricity; the third wave gave us the computer, the internet and related technology such as GPS; and fourth wave which is going to ripple through society over the next 20 years will be driven by AI, biotech and nanotech where augmented reality will be integrated seamlessly into our lives. Examples of this will be where contact lenses will provide the relevant data for a situation; real time instant translation for any language will transform communication; and 3D printers will produce organic tissue such as heart tissue and skin. ‘Intelligent paper’ will replace screens that have a fixed size – desktop, laptop, ipad, phone. Rather, the screen size will be variable just stretch it out to the size you want and then shrink it back and put it inside your mobile phone.
The robotics industry will be bigger than the automobile industry today. New jobs will be created for people involved with designing, building, repairing and servicing robots. Gene therapy will eradicate many diseases. As organs wear out they will be replaced – grown from our own cells.
The opening keynote speaker, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, co-founder of string theory referred to this new era we are entering as the ‘Golden Age of Science’. He observed that science makes it possible for even poor countries to leap-frog into the future. Events such as the World Science Forum help facilitate a global conversation so that all countries can be a part of creating that future and also sharing in the benefits. It was an inspirational event reminding us that there are no problems we can’t solve if we work together.