Strengthening the link between science and society

On Friday 8 July, the lifts in the Main Building filled with directors-general, assistant directors-general, chiefs of staff, and secretaries-general from a veritable alphabet soup of international organisations. They were heading to a round-table discussion about science and society, chaired by CERN Director-General, Rolf Heuer.

“We need to get away from talking like the dense books we read, and start speaking in ‘normal’ language,” said one of the delegates during the round table. The 19 high-ranking delegates from UNESCO, DOE, WHO, WMO, and OECD – to name but a few – sat over coffee and a working lunch, sharing ideas and opinions in a deliberately informal setting.

Are the benefits of science being appropriately communicated to decision makers? How will basic research cope during these tough economic times? How can the applications of scientific research be more firmly linked to basic scientific research? Delegates jumped from topic to topic: from the financial pressure faced by basic research to issues related to climate research. No topic was off-limits, although the DG encouraged delegates to focus on the concerns shared by everyone in the scientific world.

The impetus behind the session came from the CERN DG’s address to the UNESCO Science Commission back in 2009. Heuer described the goal to present the activities of the Organization, its results (fundamental or applied), and its impact in a more effective way to the various sections of society, including policy-makers. “I am firmly convinced that investing in fundamental science is essential and profitable not only for the cultural growth of humankind, but also for the progress of society,” he’d said, “without fundamental research there is no science to apply.”

Along with calls for a follow-up session, delegates ended the afternoon with two concrete suggestions: organizing a World Science Day, and naming a science ambassador to the United Nations.

by Katarina Anthony