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II.5  A new Social Contract for Science


The challenges of environmental, public health, food security and poverty issues have produced a new socio-economic context for science. The need for a new social contract between science and society.

Chair: Herwig Schopper University of Hamburg, Germany
Rapporteur: Heidi Diggelmann Institute for Microbiology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Session co-ordinator: Herwig Schopper University of Hamburg, Germany
Local secretary: R. Lovas Research Institute for Particle Physics, Hungary


Basic science and society

Herwig Schopper
University of Hamburg, Germany

It is generally agreed that science has become an important part of economy and hence of welfare of society. Basic science is the driving part to supply new ideas to form the basis of new technologies. Society should acknowledge this by making available a certain fraction of GNP for curiosity driven research.

In order to find the public and political support for such measures increased efforts have to be made to inform and educate the public. This includes the improvement of teaching of science at all levels from school to universities.It is also suggested to explore ways to establish an impartial international body to adjudicate damaging disputes involving scientific issues. This body could investigate the extent to which claims are based upon established science or are ungrounded opinion, perhaps influenced by pressure groups. The statements of such a body could provide a better basis for political decisions and for the information given by the media.

For the above mentioned points some recommended actions will be proposed based on deliberations of a preparatory international workshop which took place on 4-6 March 1999 at Debrecen.

What does it mean, a social contract for science?

Evandro Agazzi
Department of Philosophy, University of Genova, Italy

The idea of a " social contract " is well suited for expressing two needs that are both legitimate, but can be practically conflicting: (a) the need of securing a substantial " freedom "of science; (b) the need of making the development of science compatible with other social requirements that could impose certain " limitations " to this freedom. In fact, the notion of " contract " implies agreement, understanding and acceptance (instead of coercion); it entails reciprocal " satisfaction " of certain needs as compensation for certain positive " services " offered, and also for certain accepted " limitations ".

The fact that the contract is " social " entails certain fundamental aspects. First, those partners of this contract are social institutions or agencies, and not individual persons (and not even " juridical persons "). Secondly, that the object of the contract is of a " global " nature, it is something like a " common good " that the different partners commit themselves to promote. In such a way the advantages that each agency can expect from the contract are not the effect of bilateral obligations, but of an overall optimisation of the common good. Finally, the social nature of this contract imposes that it be the result of a participate elaboration.

The intellectual background for shaping this contract is a " systems-theoretic " view of society. That is: society is a global system, embedded in a complex environment, and articulated in several open and adaptive subsystems. A systems-theoretic approach (in which the adequate functioning of each subsystem must be compatible with – and even instrumental to: a similar functioning of all the other subsystems; the attainment of overall goals of the global system; the preservation of the various environmental conditions) is the appropriate framework in which the ideal-typical features of a " social contract " can be outlined.

Since this social contract must specifically regard science (and technology as well), a careful analysis must be offered regarding : (a) what are the imprescindable specific characteristics of the subsystem "" science " that the contract must respect, promote and not compress ; (b) what are the other social subsystems that are most directly related, via a network of feed-back loops, with the scientific subsystem ; (c) what are the non-social subsystems of the global environment that most significantly entertain feed-back loops with the scientific system.

The consideration of (a) should clarify those performances, in terms of objective and reliable knowledge, that the scientific subsystem is specifically and uniquely capable of offering and that cannot be jeopardized in the social contract, since they are indispensable for the good functioning of the global social system and of many other subsystems (the explicitation of such performances corresponds to the untouchable " internal freedom " of science).

The consideration of (b) should single out what " outputs " of the scientific subsystems could be valuable for other specific subsystems (e.g. industrial, economic, medical, military, welfare, transport and communication, political, moral, etc.), and also why " inputs " coming from the single subsystems could imply a fostering of the functioning of the scientific system.

The consideration (c) should make clear what amount of environmental conditions are " consumed " by the functioning of the scientific system, and what short-term, middle-term and long-term damages could be produced by this functioning. This analysis amounts to the indication not so much of " prohibitions ", but of " objective constraints " that should be recognized for the functioning of the scientific system.

This " analytic " work, however, is only a first step and, as such, is still insufficient for the elaboration of a " social contract ", since it remains within an optic of " free competition " that could easily imply that the scientific system operates chiefly " at the service " of those subsystems that offer it the most conspicous advantages, disregarding the needs of other subsystems and even those of the global system. This " bilateral " approach (that remains limited even when it becomes " multilateral ") must be overcome by a genuinely " global " or synthetic approach.

The transition to this approach is possible if the specific " goals " of each subsystem are considered as " values ", in the sense that pursuing them in " valuable " for the society " as a whole ". At this stage it is possible to see that the global system does not tend to the production of a particular kind of commodity or service, but to the realization of a condition of " good life " for all the members of the society. Such a condition of good life or of a " common good " represents the " global value " for society, in which all the particular " values " are included, but in a " balanced " harmony, that depends on a certain hierarchy of these values.

This hierarchy is not arbitrary, but reflects a " humanistic " approach, in which the fundamental needs (material and spiritual) of the human being receive their adequate recognition. Using a terminology widely adopted nowadays, we could say that the social contract should reflect the preoccupation of respecting and fostering the wide spectrum of " human rights ".

Coming again to science, we can conclude that a social contract for science should essentially amount to outlining the ways of performing scientific and technological activities in full respect of human rights. These rights certainly include the freedom of research for pure and efficient knowledge, but also demand that such research not be self-referring. This means that the pursuit of the specific goals of science and technology must not be disjointed from the recognition and acceptance of several " constraints " that are represented by the presence of other no less essential " values " that have the right to enjoy present humans as well as future generations.

The social contract with science in developing countries

Yoginder Alagh
President, Shiri Sai Rural Institute, India

The social contract with science in the next millenium in developing countries must consist of three concrete action points which will determine the spread of technology and the scientific temperament in the mass of people who will constitute over 80 per cent of the World’s population.

First, institutions must be built up at the national and local levels, with support from the international community so that those who help themselves in developing land, soils an water in the different agro-climatic regimes of the world, must get national and global support. Agenda 21 and the latter discussion show that global sustainability problems like sea warming and the ozone-layer problem can be solved only if local communities live in balance with their resources. Bio-technology, modern trade and communication, new sources of energy, satellites and resource mapping have all been used in successful examples of meeting the fuel, fodder and food requirements of the communities in the developing world in a sustainable manner. The Social Contract with science must disseminate incentives with which this happens on a larger scale and also enforce disincentives with which perverse people is discouraged.

Second, it has been shown that the power of technologies like computerization, the new materials bio-technology and communication can be used in combination with small artisan and worker communities in the third world to integrate with regional, national and global markets. New styles of organisation are required with support at the national and global level, for accessing ever-changing technologies, quality control and standarization and promotion flexible responses to market demands. These can be built around systems where local artisan communities take their own initiatives to link with larger markets and higher levels of organisations integrate with them. This part of the social contract will be necessary if technology and science are not seen as enclaves of "foreign domination".

Third, science education and research has to be related with the basic needs of poor people in terms of primary health, literacy and education, access to drinking water, food and nutrition security; These need creative partnerships between local initiatives, more efficient organisations and distribution systems and public policy support at national and international levels of a much larger magnitude than seen earlier.

Finally Science and Technology has to be seen as a hand maiden of peace cutting across cultures and bringing the peoples of the world together, rather than excluding and narrowing the human experience.

New social contract for science:
a need for capacity building in Africa

Francis K.A. Allotey
President, Society of African Physicists and Mathematicians, Ghana

The importance of using science in poverty alleviation, food, security, supply of good quality water,

sound environmental management, good public health systems, and industrial development in Africa is discussed. The paper shows that though science is necessary for sustainable development if it is integrated with a good governance: democracy, human rights and good environmental practices.

It shows that to promote science in African countries, there is a need for a national commitment, a good basic education, science awareness at all levels of the African Society. Importance of basic science is emphasised.

It is important to bridge communication gap between African scientists, policy makers and the general public.

The paper points out that funding for scientific research should not be regarded as cost but as an important investment.

Important role of capacity building including women and the disabled is also discussed.

Concrete examples in capacity building in Africa will be described. They are "Africa Laser, Atomic and Molecular Physics Network", "Sandwich Ph.D programme, in Africa", and "Adbus Salam/Edward Bouchet Institute for Scientific collaboration among African and African American Scientists" and "World Bank Virtual University Programme in Africa";

To minimise brain-drain, Africa governments need to have concrete and effective policies on the training and the retention of scientific personnel.

˛Directeur de Recherche, Générale des Eaux/Vivendi, France

By 2030, on a world scale, there will be the equivalent of about one thousand cities with three million inhabitants. The world's urban population at that time will be roughly 15 times greater than it was in 1950. The social and ecological cost of this metropolitanization is growing and can no longer be ignored. Poverty, the lack of infrastructure, poor quality housing and overpopulation are the typical characteristics suburban sprawl.

The situation is more serious in countries in the southern hemisphere than in the north, with the problems of noise, waste, wastewater management and drinking water quality being difficult to manage.

Against this backdrop, supplying drinking water to a local authority – and supplying it to everyone – is still the constant practice of water companies, who sometimes come up against the huge scope of the social difficulties in the new metropolises.

The water industry has a responsibility to society, which is why it wants to take up this challenge. But it can only do so in conjunction with other public and private entities. That is the purpose of the work started by the World Bank through an informal network of companies, civil society organisations (NGOs and social welfare organizations) and government ministries. The Business Partnership for Development (BPD) programme, as it is known, is based on the premise that partnerships between these three sectors offer strong value added.

The industrial partners participating in this programme are Générale des Eaux – Vivendi, Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux, Thames Water, Aguas Argentinas, Aguas de Barcelona, Aguas de Cartagena, Aguas des Illimani, Northumbrian Water and Hydro-Conseil.

The non commercial partners are CAMEP (the national water company of Haiti), local governments, city planning and local public works authorities, UMGENI Water, universities and NGOs such as GRET, Lembaga Swadaya, Masyarakat, Myula Trust and the "programme Solidarité Eau".

BPD is organized jointly by the World Bank, Générale des Eaux and Water Aid.

The partners have identified projects in various metropolises in the world where sector-based partnerships play an important role, working together and sharing their experiences in order to find solutions for the city of the twenty-first century. To date, seven projects have started in Colombia, Indonesia, Haiti, Bolivia, Argentina and two in South Africa.

All the partners share the philosophy that all users must be supplied with water that will protect them from any health risk.

To go down that track, it is not enough to export technology. It is only by working with researchers in the different countries in which we operate that we will find concrete solutions appropriate to the local context. What's more, the research effort can not be limited to chemical or biological engineering. It must also cover the social and economic aspects of the situation.

The challenges we face are therefore just as much economic and social as they are technical. To invest in heavy infrastructure, which is often without market value, a company must be able to cover certain risks. One such risk is the ability of users to pay for their water. However, financial resources are limited, both for research and investment in infrastructure. We must therefore learn set priorities and reach consensus. Investment needs are huge and exceed by a long margin the financing capacity of public sponsors. As a result, the private sector is being asked to make up the shortfall. But here again, the limits are being reached.

It is important to deal with these problems in a very lucid manner and use decision-making tools that can be developed by research laboratories to ensure intelligent use is made of available water and financial resources.

We also need to build a lasting relationship of trust and confidence with civil society organisations' representatives because our business activity is one that stretches over long periods.

Working together with civil society organisations' representatives and major financing institutions, we have to establish a strategy for sustainable development where the private sector's contribution is put to the best possible use.

The relationship of trust and confidence is fundamental to the management of the tensions that exist in the new metropolises.

Tension also exists in industrialized countries, which are confronted increasingly by a deep uncertainty, that of the "risk society".

The evolution in information technology is transforming our observation and knowledge systems. Technical progress in other fields also gives rise to a new generation of risks and uncertainty. Utilities companies are confronted by these realities all the time – people worry about the quality of the air they breathe, the water they drink and the disruptive nature of the noise around them.

We have to cope with the impossibility of being able to measure, or even anticipate, the full impact that the evolution of technical systems will have on nature and human health.

The French legal definition of the principle of prudence (Law 95-101 on strengthening environmental protection) is worth noting here. It is the principle "according to which the absence of certainty, based on available scientific and technical knowledge, must not delay the adoption of effective and proportionate measures aimed at preventing a risk of serious and irreversible damage to the environment at an economically acceptable cost".

A constant dialogue between scientists, industry and non-trading company representatives is needed.

However, there remains one burning question: who is in a position to define "economically acceptable cost"?

Prospects for science in Latin American countries

Luis Masperi
Director, CLAF, Brazil

Latin America, after the so called lost decade of the eighties, has experienced an economic growth in the nineties but still has almost one-half of its population under the poverty level and unemployment has dramatically risen. Moreover, due to the recent financial world instabilities, the region is threatened by recession and additional worsening of social conditions.

This is due to little production based on science and technology. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have a long tradition of research in their universities with a well established postgraduate system, but are currently suffering budgetary difficulties. Chile, Colombia and Venezuela have reached a more recent development, together with Cuba which has an extreme lack of funds. Costa Rica and Uruguay have also universities of reasonable level but are too small to perform autonomous research. Peru is emerging. On the whole the resources given to science and technology are well below 1% of the GNP and the connection with the industry is very weak, with the exception of Brazil.

It is important to reverse the present trend of considering the immediate individual profit as supreme value, in favour of understanding that solidarity will allow a harmonic development for the benefit of the whole of society. Science, apart from being a conquest of the human species, is the basis for applications which may contribute to the solution of social problems. The states must therefore increase the support to public universities where most of research is done in Latin America. Payment of fees by the students, in the present situation of social inequalities, would make things worse but after the conclusion of the studies they should retribute to the university in proportion to their salaries. Contacts with the industry should be favoured to do applied research useful for technological innovation and receive additional financial support for the universities.

A network of postgraduate studies and fellowships should be established in Latin America, together with collaboration in megaprojects and common use of experimental facilities. Bureaucratic obstacles for the exchange of students among Latin American countries should be abolished.

Dubna: an island of stability

Alexei Sissakian
JINR, Dubna, Russia

It is common knowledge that the achievements of fundamental sciences determine the level of modern civilization. Both direct outcomes of fundamental studies (discoveries of new types of matter, new forces of nature, methods of energy production and transfer, etc.) and their indirect impact on related fields of science and technology eventually define the intellectual and moral climate, the level of education, possibilities for human society to further develop and reach its higher well-being. In recent years, however, there has been a notable loss of public interest in fundamental science worldwide. The countries of the former USSR have experienced this particularly acutely. In the course of their change-over to market economies, Russia and other CIS countries have witnessed significant reductions of state support of fundamental science. Besides, no new mechanisms for supporting science under new market conditions have been developed.

In this situation, an important stabilization factor is internationality of scientific projects carried out by laboratories. On the one hand, one should mention here the activities of the various international foundations (e.g. ISTC, INTAS), which besides supporting science in Russia and CIS countries are aimed at hindering 'brain-drain', preserving the traditions of East-West collaboration, promoting conversion of military science. The positive experience of these foundations is well known.

On the other hand, a good example of stability of international projects is the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research - an international centre for fundamental nuclear studies, established in 1956, whose seat is in Dubna and which at present has 18 Member States of the Eastern region. In our opinion, the experience of JINR should not only be studied but also spread to other branches of science. During the most difficult periods of its existence, JINR, being a huge cementing force, has succeeded in preserving the common intellectual space in which scientists of the former USSR used to work. Moreover, JINR, thanks to its extensive international scientific and technical co-operation, is regarded to be an efficient interface, a bridge between West and East. A bright example is the long-standing collaboration between JINR and CERN. Over the past four decades it has not only contributed to an impressive range of theoretical and experimental work in high-energy physics, but also has led to mutual understanding and friendship

between scientists and even nations.

Keeping the basic principles of knowledge openness
and research for the long term

Dominique Foray
Directeur de Recherche, CNRS, France

On openness

It is important to recognize that a major part of basic scientific research is carried out under an open principle -- new knowledge is disseminated largely and quickly. Distributing scientific information is one means of increasing the efficiency of scientific investigation since it can serve to reduce duplicative or wasteful lines of research and to increase the probability of new fruitful combinations of ideas and projects. Economists explain that this principle of open science provides private incentives to generate public goods and has demonstrated its effectiveness as an incentive system. Thus, standards of conduct regarding disclosure and investigation of the efficacy of the distribution of knowledge become the first priority in attempting to assure that public expenditures on science generate value for the tax payer.

But the new context, where proprietary science and intensive privatization of knowledge clash directly with the conditions for knowledge dissemination and access, make it very difficult to meet such a challenge.

On long term research

We are living in an economic world in which " the present value of future benefits are very low ". Real rates of interest have been at historically high levels since the early 90s, reflecting a social preference for current consumption instead of investment for the future. Science, like other activities oriented towards long term achievements has, thus, difficulties to get a large basis for investment.

In such a context (in which the present value of future benefits are very low ), the use of cost-benefits (c/b) analysis cannot provide a relevant basis for decision-making: because long-term benefits are worth little to the present generation, there is little basis for investment. C/b analysis is, therefore, highly opportunistic since past generations cannot revoke their bequests and future generations cannot protest against our failure to provide for their welfare.

There is, thus, a need for new approaches such as the approach based on inter-generational equity: future generations have the right to demand a knowledge legacy, as we currently benefit from knowledge produced by past generations. Bequest is resulting from a substitution of current consumption for an accumulation to be passed on future generations. Our current abilities to produce and consume reflect past contributions to the current stock of scientific knowledge. The issues are of great importance: Should our contributions to future generations be smaller, the same or larger that past generations’ (partially inadverdent) contributions to our own age? What kinds of allocation mechanisms can guarantee the respect of such rights? How to warrant those social functions dealing with the generation and preservation of diversity, the maintenance of access rights to critical knowledge and data (such as human genome data), the service of non-solvent markets?

It is well known that the market is not the appropriate institution to solve such questions and that it is a responsibility of the public institutions to facilitate this inter-generational and inter-spatial distribution of resources.


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