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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Professor Dr Jaime Lavados
Ambassador/Permanent Delegate of Chile to UNESCO

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This Conference has been convened to define a new contract between science and society. This image, ‘a new contract’, is undoubtedly a good metaphor, solid, direct, summing up the need to revise and somehow up-date the relations between an ever more powerful and autonomous science and the increasingly different society to the one we have known until now and for this reason facing new problems and new, and sometimes unheard of demands for knowledge.

However, the constant risk incurred with the intuitions underlying metaphors is that they are very general and greatly simplifying to the point of forgetting the intrinsic complexity of certain processes. Often these intuitions do not properly take into account heterogeneity nor pay attention to differences. We believe that the present relation between science and society is particularly complex. This because of the increase and dispersion of scientific knowledge which is fragmented into hundreds of disciplines and sub-disciplines but at the same time which coalesce in new and often unexpected meta-disciplinary ensembles. Also, because of the increasing complexity of societies and of its varied needs and requirements, the increment in the number of actors and factors intervening in scientific and technological activities, as well as in the application of knowledge. But, also, owing to recent awareness that not all technological change is necessarily positive, that wisdom and ethics must inform knowledge and that scientific knowledge alone will not improve the human condition and that a good political judgement will always be necessary.

Radical changes are perceived as we closely scrutinize the current complexity of the scientific enterprise. We cannot continue thinking, as we did until very recently, that scientific investigation of excellence is the fruit of a purely individual effort. Apart from notorious exceptions, a manned and material infrastructure is now necessary, and this requires powerful institutions, international consortiums, plenty of resources and other arrangements, far from the possibilities available to an isolated researcher. On the other hand, we have discovered that it is not true either that the application of new knowledge in the production of goods and services is something automatic that only depends on the quality of research. Today we know that the application of knowledge depends more on demand than supply, and that in order that demand for knowledge can occur, economic, political, entrepreneurial and market circumstances, entirely removed from the scientific venture, are necessary.

These paradoxes undoubtedly are showing we must revise old concepts and also that it is necessary to establish a new contract between science and society. If we are realistic, we must see several groups of activities associated with science whose relations among themselves and with society are neither simple nor direct. There are, on the one hand, the processes intended to ‘produce knowledge’ that follow a certain logic of their own quite distinct from activities oriented to ‘circulating and diffusing knowledge’ and to ‘education for S&T’. These are also different from the massive number of activities devoted to the ‘application of knowledge’, ‘technology development’ and ‘innovation for production’. Among all these activities, there may exist gaps and even contradictions, epistemological or practical in nature, and also differences of motivation and intention. Remoteness or proximity to the economic cycles or the market, or different valorizations for scientific occurrences and for social and economic events.

For Chile these issues are vital. We are a small and distant country, with a daunting geography, with natural resources demanding great effort to exploit. For us, development is not possible without an intensive accumulation of knowledge, technical experience and high quality education. Although restrictions exist, important efforts are being made. We have an increasing expenditure in S&T, close to 1% of GNP, which, although still inadequate, has brought about high scientific productivity in comparison to countries with a similar level of development, particularly in relation to the population volume and its per capita income. For our necessary dependence on S&T, it is important for us that our scientific endeavours be pertinent meaning that wherever and whenever possible, and knowing that the relation to R&D is neither direct nor simple, they should respond to the requirements and demands of our society, present as well as future, and to our economic possibilities.

As we need to be efficient, the administration and management of this new contract is a vital question for us. For us the relation between science and society is not only a question for abstract discussion alien to reality. We need to concretise it in organizational structures, budgetary appropriations, mechanisms and instruments, incentives and regulations. Obviously all this requires much thinking and theoretical backing. The question is that we cannot remain at a standstill, we have to continue improving our capabilities to have more and better science to better contribute to development,

For these reasons we are concerned that this Conference live up to expectations so that a Declaration that effectively reflects the new situation and a Framework for Action that guides our work is achieved. But we are interested perhaps even more in that, once the Conference closes, UNESCO succeeds in organizing and directing the specific procedures needed to establish this ‘new contract’ in each country. How do we train scientific personnel - which is naturally the basis for any effort -, but also how do we bring together an adequate number of scientific programme administrators, how do we improve our funding systems and our infrastructure not only in quantity but in quality, modernizing them and making them more appropriate, how do we build institutions for the development of science and its applications so that while remaining simple it can contribute to strengthen the participation of the various actors, from different positions, in the common concern. In a word, we would like the constant and ancestral hope that knowledge truly contributes to the welfare of humankind to become a reality.

UNESCO will then have, once the Conference is over, a very important and decisive task ahead.


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