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I.2   The Universal Value of Fundamental Science 


Fundamental research extends our knowledge of the physical, biological and human world. What are the questions for fundamental science today? How should fundamental research be supported in a social and economic environment that expects immediate results? Are the issues different according to discipline and in the various regions and cultures of the world?


Chair : Hubert Markl President, Max-Planck Gesellschaft, Munich, Germany
Rapporteur: Ian Butterworth Imperial College, London, UK

Session co-ordinator: Peter Colyer Academia Europaea; UK
Local Secretary: F. Solymosi József Attila University, Hungary


Science as a production force

Mohammad A. Hamdan
Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Science and Technology, Jordan

In this short exposition we discuss the need for science as a fundamentally productive force in society and the requirements for enabling science to play this fundamental role. It is stressed that science played a major role in the dramatic transformations in every field of human endeavour. It has provided mankind with both the conceptual and the practical approaches to the future. Although applied science produces short-term results for developmental purposes, research in fundamental science should fall under the umbrella of national priorities. Allocations must be made for financing of fundamental research that, while expanding the frontiers of science, often results in beneficial applications. History is full of cases in which the pursuit of pure science led to unlocking entire fields of practical applications that had previously been undreamed of . Therefore national science policies should build on the role of science's long-term as well as short-term objectives for the benefit of humanity. Scientific and technological capacity has proved itself to be a strong foundation for economic, social and environmentally sound progress. To achieve our full potential in scientific endeavour meeting the needs of humanity, we must ensure that the practice as well as use of knowledge derived from scientific research should safeguard human dignity and the needs of future generations. It is imperative that all nations shall commit themselves to humanistic ethics in their use of science, as part of a social contract. Besides, the global scientific community can play an essentially constructive and beneficial role in the Culture of Peace with a long-term commitment to harnessing science to serve a more equitably balanced and sustainable world.

Forging an alliance of formal and
folk ecological knowledge

Madhav Gadgil
Centre for Ecological Sciences

Ecology provides the scientific underpinning for sustainable management of the worlds heritage or natural resources. However, recent years have brought home to urn a better understanding of the limitations of science in predicting the behavior of complex natural systems, and in consequence, towards providing practically useful prescriptions for managing such systems. This understanding has prompted a shift towards more flexible systems geared to take advantage of feedback from all available location and time specific information. These would be adaptive and participatory systems of management and a major challenge before ecology is to generate scientific inputs to support such systems.

Much locality and time specific information relevant to such adaptive management resides with practical ecologists; with peasants, herders, fishers, forest produce collectors and artisans who interact with the local ecological systems in their course of their day-to-day livelihood activities. Today we have no system, no institutions to assimilate such information on ecological processes. What we have is a system of taking advantage of information relating to economic uses of biological resources, a system that has grown as a part of the discipline on ethnobiology, a system that is less than fair in sharing credit for the knowledge with the practical ecologists. We now need to create new systems that would be focussed on information on ecological processes that is relevant to adaptive management.

Practical ecological knowledge is a rich storehouse of information on ecological history. Historical observations are a source of valuable information on "natural" experiments in complex ecological systems for which it is difficult to set up deliberately planned experiments with adequate levels of reapplication. Assimilating information from historical observations can therefore be a significant input towards understanding the dynamics of particular systems that need to be managed. Ecology needs to develop ways of organizing such information; much of it would have to be absorbed from practical ecologists, often illiterate, certainly untrained in modern science. In the process we would also need to develop new ways of establishing mutualistic relationships with the practical ecologists and of respecting their knowledge and wisdom.

In India a group of us has been exploring these possibilities as a part of a countrywide program called "Peoples biodiversity registers". The experience has been very positive, and suggests that such an approach be worth being developed further. It could of course call for considerable effort on the part of ecologists to do so, but holds the promise of greatly enriching the science of ecology in the long run.

The universal value of fundamental science:
a view from the South

Manuel Peimbert
Instituto de Astronomía, UNAM, Mexico

The importance of scientific knowledge, its generation and its use is briefly discussed. Some suggestions for the development of fundamental science in third world countries are presented. It is stated that the development of science and its applications are not only a matter of knowledge but also a problem of ethics. It is concluded that the solutions to the problems of our planet require the active participation of all countries of the world.

Catherine Brechignac Director-General, CNRS, France
Edoardo Vesentini President, Accademia dei Lincei, Italy


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