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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Dr. Luk Van Langenhove
Deputy Secretary-General,
Federal Service for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs

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First of all, I would like to congratulate UNESCO, ICSU and especially our Hungarian hosts on the splendid organization of this World Conference on Science.

Many delegates have already touched upon so many issues that it is difficult not to repeat what already has been said by others.

Let me therefore be brief on some issues which are important for the Belgian delegation and develop one issue in some more detail.

The Belgian delegation wants to stress the following points :

  1. We strongly support the notion that science has to play a major role in promoting peace, conflict resolution and combating all forms of intolerance and discrimination.

  2. We also strongly support all efforts towards increasing the participation of women in science.

  3. We regret that the social sciences were not more prominently represented at the World Conference.

Ladies and gentlemen, science and society are dramatically changing and so are the relationships between science and society. A new `social contract' is emerging.

For many years the unwritten social contract made it possible for scientists to work at the expense of society if - in return - they provided top education for that society.

Today, universities and scientists in research institutes are witnessing every day that this social contract is challenged. Not only is there the demand for ‘value for money’ and a demand for increased economic relevance, there is also a growing demand for more social relevance: for a stronger and more visible response to social and environmental problems.

The complexity of the Earth and the complexity of our networked information societies of today make this demand a difficult challenge. As such the need for knowledge puts great pressure on science systems everywhere. A new social contract between science and society is emerging, one in which the scope of scientific progress is broadened from economic progress to worldwide human sustainable progress, but also one that challenges the communication and interaction between ‘producers’ of scientific knowledge and their consumers, such as policy makers, NGOs and all other societal groups that play a major role in taking action towards sustainability and knowledge-driven change.

As a result, this new social contract is challenging for both scientists and governments.

Firstly, because it should be clear that scientists should not limit their contribution to ‘doing research’. Their responsibility is much greater: scientists have to be prepared to contribute to dialogue exercises with society. Secondly, governments too have a responsibility here: they should be aware that support to science is not sufficient in order to establish a scientific impact on policy making. The necessary efforts to organize interfaces between policy-makers, stakeholders and scientists have to be organized and there has to be a realistic openness to knowledge input in their decision making processes. Realistic, because it should be clear for decision-makers that science can never bring clear-cut solutions to societal problems!

So, ladies and gentlemen, the new commitment that this World Conference on Science is all about has to be one that not only involves scientists but the whole society. As such, there should not only be an opening up of the scientific community to the society - as was stated by Ference Glatz, Chairman of the Hungarian Organizing Committee. It will be equally necessary for there to be an opening up of society to science.

A final word on the international aspects of the new social contract. This can best be illustrated by the environment as an issue of concern. As we all know, considerable progress has been made in establishing a worldwide system of international environmental governance: international treaties concerning the atmosphere, the oceans, endangered species and trade in toxic waste exist and are operational. It is as part of this global environmental governance that the scientific community worldwide is called upon to contribute. But there is more, at the same time the globalization of our economies has made us aware that many of the social problems we are faced with (demographic changes, unemployment, organization of local governance) cannot be solved without international governance either and cannot be solved without involving the scientific and technological capacities in combined international efforts.

In other words, science will in the future be even more international and global than it is today. As such it will help us to recognize that humanity in all its diversity has only one common future! We all will have to work together to secure that future...


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